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Vegan for the Holidays

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Includes recipes below

For more Hanukkah ideas click below


Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is a joyful holiday that commemorates a miraculous event that occurred in ancient Jerusalem in the year 165 BCE. Perhaps, Hanukkah was the world's first recorded celebration of religious freedom taking place when the Jews regained possession of their Temple and vanquished their Syrian oppressors.

Throughout history, Jews have often struggled for religious freedom, a plight that had its beginnings in Jerusalem long before Christ was born. Under the unpleasant rule of Antiochus Epiphanes, the King of Syria, the Jews were forced to worship Greek gods and Greek idols that were brought into their temple against their will.

Determined to revolt, the Jews, led by a revered leader named Judas Maccabee, defeated the Syrians in a famous battle. This was the first time the Jews actually armed themselves with weapons to fight for their religious freedom. They chased the Syrian army out of Jerusalem and turned their attention to restoring their desecrated Temple and its damaged contents.

Large menorah resumes its proud place
First, the Jews removed all the Greek idols and devoted themselves to cleaning out all traces of their oppressors. The large menorah, or candelabra, once again stood proudly in its place in the open court, and the altar was cleansed for the traditional Sabbath offering of shewbread (The twelve loaves of unleavened bread).

Next, they searched through the ruins to find the holy olive oil to re-light their Eternal Light that, even to this day, always hangs above the altar. Fortunately, they found a single cruse of consecrated oil and re-lit the Eternal Light, knowing that there was only enough oil to last a single day.

Then, a miracle happened! That single little bottle of oil kept on burning, and burning--one day, two days, three days, and on. That tiny cruse of oil burned for eight days, which gave the priests enough time to prepare new oil. Judas Maccabee proclaimed a special eight-day festival to commemorate the miracle of the lights and called it Hanukkah, meaning "dedication." Menorah

To this day, the traditional Hanukkah celebration begins at sundown on the 24th of the Hebrew month of Kislev with the recitation of a few prayers before the lighting of a special nine-candle menorah called a hanukkiah. Eight of the candles represent the eight miraculous days the little cruse of oil burned in the ancient temple. The ninth candle, the shamash, is used to light the other eight. On the first night, the shamash lights one candle. On the second night, two candles are lit, and so on, until, on the eighth night, all eight candles are lit.

The familiar box of Hanukkah candles usually contains candles of many colors that are delightful to look at when the entire hanukkiah is lighted. The candles are small and do not burn long; however, they are never blown out, but are to burn until they go out naturally.

The holiday is especially joyful for families with young children because the festivities include giving the children Hanukkah gelt, pieces of chocolate wrapped in gold foil that represent gold coins. Many families exchange gifts all eight nights, while some only give gifts to the children. Each year families retell the story of Hanukkah, sing songs, and play the dreidle game with a special spinning top.

Bring on the latkes
Traditional festive meals almost always include foods fried in oil in remembrance of the "miracle." Fried potato latkes, or pancakes, topped with sour cream and applesauce are a favorite Hanukkah dish that originated in the Eastern European countries. Other variations of latkes include those made with fruits, matzoh meal, buckwheat, cheese, sugar, or sesame seeds. Soofganiyot, jam-filled doughnuts, are familiar Israeli treats, while Sephardic Jews prepare fritters in syrup called zalabia,

For the centerpiece of the meal roast goose was a traditional European Hanukkah dish, a practice adopted from the Christians who served goose at Christmas. Deep fried and battered chicken is an Italian custom, while Moroccans enjoy their chicken deep-fried.

Dairy foods like blintzes, sour cream, cottage cheese, and cheesecake are also customary dishes brought to America by the Jews from Eastern Europe. Featuring dairy foods began as a tribute to Judith, the brave daughter of the Maccabees, whose cleverness saved her city in ancient Judea. As the legend is told, Syrian General Holofernes was in love with Judith and invited her to a banquet. She fed him huge quantities of salty cheese, then offered him goblet after goblet of wine to quench his thirst until he fell into a drunken sleep. Not wasting a precious moment, she took a sword and cut off his head. The Maccabees were then able to defeat the leaderless Syrian forces.

Tradition reigns at the festive table in many Jewish homes; however, vegans can approach the holiday menu by innovatively transforming it into a compassionate array of delicacies. While the abundant vegan dishes are just as delicious as grandmother's old-fashioned cooking, they are created without destroying the lives of precious animals. What may surprise many is that nearly every customary dish can be prepared completely with plant-based foods.

Don't mock chopped liver
At sundown, prayers are recited, the hanukkiah is lighted, and the family gathers at the table to begin the meal with a tantalizing Mock Chopped Liver. Many versions of imitation chopped liver have evolved from cashews and string beans. This original version, made with lentils, walnuts, and brown rice, offers a richer flavor and texture that more closely resembles real chopped liver.

An old-fashioned mouth-watering Sweet and Sour Cabbage Borscht comes to the table in bowls brimming with cabbage, and a medley of vegetables in a traditional Eastern European sweet and sour broth.

Festive Horseradish Coleslaw provides an inviting balance of sweet and salty flavors that include apples, shredded beets, raisins, and navel oranges seasoned with agave nectar and lime juice. Agave nectar, reminiscent of the taste and texture of honey, is a natural fructose extracted from the agave plant.

Making a big tsimmes
Taking the place of the roast goose is the time-honored Carrot and Sweet Potato Tzimmes, a hearty stew filled with chunks of carrots, sweet potatoes, and garbanzo beans along with prunes and onions. A tasty vegetable broth heightened with agave nectar and cinnamon bathes the vegetables and creates aromatic layers of flavor.

Huddled on the plate next to the Carrot Tzimmes are Steamed Broccoli and Cauliflower, plus a zesty Fruit Relish of diced Japanese persimmons, fresh cranberries, dates, and Bosc pears married with garlic, vinegar, and jalapeno.

Served as a separate course or along with the Carrot Tzimmes are the featured stars of the Hanukkah meal, the traditional Potato Latkes with vegan Sour Cream and applesauce. These Potato Latkes might be considered untraditional because they do not contain eggs as the typical binder. Keeping the menu all plant-based, the latkes are held together with psyllium or tofu. Dreidle

Because the meal is so hearty, the family may appreciate a little break from the table to give the children their Hanukkah gelt, either the foil-wrapped chocolate coins, or perhaps, the real thing. At this time, the children might anticipate receiving a long-awaited gift that may be small or large, depending on family tradition. Children love to sing their favorite Hanukkah songs, "The Dreidle Song," or "Hanukkah, Oh, Hanukkah" or others they learn in Sunday school. Sometimes the whole family joins in the sing-along. While the adults chat among themselves, the children gather on the floor to spin the dreidle.

Kids love Flaming Tea Ceremony
Finally, someone shouts out, "When's dessert?" That's the cue to bring on the Cranberry Apple Cinnamon Strudel, a traditional sweet with an updated seasonal spin. Roshinkes un Mandlin (almonds and raisins), a favorite nibble, also grace the table. While the seductive, cinnamon infused Strudel quells the sweet cravings, the meal is brought to a festive conclusion with an exhilarating Flaming Tea Ceremony, a Hanukkah ritual practiced in Old Russia.

To rekindle the ceremony, fill a small bowl with lump or cube sugar. Prepare hot tea, herbal if preferred, and have a small glass or bowl of brandy ready. Give each guest a spoon. In Russian tradition, the tea is poured into glasses, but cups may be easier to handle. Each guest takes a cube of sugar, dips it into the brandy, and places it onto a spoon. The lights are turned down for the dramatic moment.

While the spoon is held over the cup of tea, the sugar cube is ignited with a lighted candle and instantly springs into flames. When everyone's sugar cube is flaming, the cubes are dropped into the tea with a sizzle. While the magic moment is a joy to adults, it is especially dazzling for the children.


Mock Chopped Liver

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Borscht

Horseradish Coleslaw

Carrot and Sweet Potato Tzimmes
Steamed broccoli and cauliflower
Potato Latkes with Tofu Sour Cream and Applesauce
Festive Fruit Relish

Cranberry Apple Cinnamon Strudel
Roshinkes un Mandlin (almonds and raisins)
Flaming Tea

I'm thoroughly convinced there's pure magic in the humble little lentil. Otherwise, how could two distinct dishes evolve from one recipe? First, there's a no-fail Mock Chopped Liver that tastes so convincingly like the real thing it may even fool an aficionado. It receives a warm welcome mounded on a lettuce-lined platter, garnished with sliced carrots and cucumbers, and served with whole grain crackers. Alternatively serve it with a platter of lettuce leaves sliced in half crosswise for each guest to spoon on a generous serving and roll them up. If you put the same mixture into the oven, out will come Walnut Lentil Pie, a scrumptious entree.

Mock Chopped Liver is one of the delicious recipes from Zel Allen's cookbook The Nut Gourmet: Nourishing Nuts for Every Occasion published by Book Publishing Company in 2006.

Mock Chopped Liver


Yield: 8 to 10 servings

    2 1/2 cups (600 ml) water
    1/2 cup (120 ml) dried lentils
    1/4 teaspoon salt

    1 1/4 cups (300 ml) coarsely chopped walnuts

    1 large carrot, coarsely shredded
    1 cup (240 ml) chopped onions
    3/4 cup (180 ml) cooked brown rice
    1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon red miso
    1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
    Freshly ground black pepper

    Lettuce leaves
    Carrot slices
    Cucumber slices
    1 green onion, minced

  1. Combine the water, lentils, and salt in an open 2-quart (2 liter) saucepan. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down to medium, and cook uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender but still firm.
  2. Grind the walnuts in the food processor until almost smooth.
  3. Add the shredded carrot, onions, brown rice, miso, soy sauce, and pepper to the walnuts in the processor. Drain and discard any excess liquid from the cooked lentils and add them to processor. Process for 1 to 2 minutes, until smooth.
  4. Transfer the mixture to an attractive lettuce-lined serving bowl or platter and garnish or serve chilled. Stored in a covered container in the refrigerator, Mock Chopped Liver will keep for three days.

Walnut Lentil Pie: Prepare Mock Chopped Liver as directed. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (Gas Mark 4), and lightly oil a 10-inch glass pie pan, 8-inch square glass baking dish, or a 9-inch springform pan. Spoon the mixture into the oiled dish and bake uncovered for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool 15 to 20 minutes. To serve, cut the pie into wedges or squares. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Festive Fruit Relish

A cheery and colorful accompaniment to the meal, this fruity combo combines seasonal fruits with strong flavors to bring a lively sweetness to the occasion.


Yield: 5 to 6 servings

    2 Fuyu persimmons, diced
    1 Bosc pear, diced
    3/4 cup (180 ml) fresh whole cranberries, washed
    8 pitted dates, diced
    5 tablespoons organic sugar
    1/2 to 1 Jalapeno pepper, de-seeded and finely minced
    1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
    1 clove garlic, finely minced

    2 sprigs mint leaves (garnish)

Put all the ingredients, except the mint leaves, together in a large bowl and toss well to distribute the flavors and colors. Transfer to an attractive serving bowl and garnish with mint leaves.

Borscht is a soup with a long-standing tradition not only in the Jewish homes of Russia and Poland, but also among the general population throughout Eastern Europe. Beets were the featured ingredients but many variations evolved with the seasons. In summer, sweet and sour Beet Borscht was served cold with a generous dollop of sour cream. During the harsh Eastern European winters a hot Borscht with hearty vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and cabbage and the perennial spoonful of sour cream often provided the mainstay of the meal in poorer communities. Adding wholesome body to this borscht are the chunks of tofu, carrots, and potatoes.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Borscht


Yield: 12 servings as a soup course or 8 as a main dish soup

    1 pound (450g) fresh beets, about 4 to 6 small
    3 quarts (3 liters) water
    2 1/2 teaspoons salt
    1 clove garlic, crushed
    1 bay leaf

    1 pound (450 g) extra firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch (1 cm) cubes
    1 28-ounce can (790g) tomatoes, coarsely chopped
    2 large carrots, sliced 1/2-inch (1 cm) thick
    1 large potato, unpeeled, chopped into large chunks
    1 medium onion, chopped
    1 green bell pepper, chopped
    2 stalks celery, sliced 1/2-inch (1 cm) thick

    1 small head cabbage, about 1 1/2 pounds (670g)

    1/4 cup to 1/2 cup (60 ml to 120 ml) dark brown sugar
    1/4 cup to 1/2 cup (60 ml to 120 ml) lemon juice

  1. Wash and peel the beets. Cut them into small dice, and put them into a 10 to 12-quart (10 to 12 liter) stockpot. Add the water, salt, garlic, and bay leaf.
  2. Cover the stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer about 25 minutes or until the beets are fork tender.
  3. Add the tofu, tomatoes, carrots, potato, onion, bell pepper, and celery.
  4. Cut the cabbage into 4 wedges. Then cut them into 1/2-inch (1 cm) thick slices, and add them to the stockpot.
  5. Cover the stockpot, and bring it back to a boil. Turn the heat down slightly, and simmer about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
  6. Season to taste with brown sugar and lemon juice and serve with a dollop of Tofu Sour Cream if desired.

A dollop of sour cream is the ideal enhancement to many entrŽes, appetizers, and casseroles. Add a spoonful to garnish soup or top a fresh fruit salad. Here's a vegan version that's far lower in fat than the traditional sour cream, yet offers the same pleasing qualities. You can also use this recipe as a base for creating a variety of dips.

Tofu Sour Cream


Yield: 1 1/2 cups (360 ml)

    1 (12.3-ounce) box (350g) extra firm silken tofu
    1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
    1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar
    1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. Use immediately or chill for an hour or two before serving. Refrigerated, Tofu Sour Cream keeps for 1 week.

The traditional definition of tzimmes is "a big deal" or "a big fuss." It's not uncommon to hear someone say, "Don't make a tzimmes out of it," when referring to someone making a big deal out of nothing. In actuality, a tzimmes is a rather simple peasant dish that can have many variations, but it almost always includes sweet fruits such as dried prunes or dried apricots along with brown sugar and sometimes honey. Our sweetener of choice is agave nectar because it closely resembles honey and results in a succulent main dish.

Yield: 4 to 5 servings

Carrot and Sweet Potato Tsimmes


    1 medium onion, cut into 8 wedges
    1 pound (450g) carrots, peeled and coarsely shredded
    1 15-ounce can (425g) garbanzo beans, drained, liquid reserved
    1 medium red potato with peel, cut into large chunks
    1/2 pound (225g) pitted prunes
    1 pound (450g) sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) chunks

    1/4 cup (60 ml) plus 2 tablespoons agave nectar or other sweetener
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

    1/2 cup (120 ml) water
    1 1/2 teaspoons potato flour

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees (Gas Mark 4) and have ready a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 32.5 cm) glass baking dish.
  2. Layer vegetables into the baking dish beginning with the onions, then the shredded carrots, drained garbanzos, potato, prunes, and sweet potatoes.
  3. Pour the reserved garbanzo liquid into a 2-cup (.5 liter) measuring cup and add enough water to equal 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) liquid.
  4. To the liquid in the cup, add the agave nectar, salt, cinnamon and pepper and pour the liquid over the vegetables.
  5. Cover the baking pan with aluminum foil, shiny side inside, and bake for 1 hour. Lower the temperature to 325 degrees (Gas Mark 3) and bake 1 hour longer.
  6. In a small saucepan, heat the 1/2 cup (120 ml) water, add the potato flour, and stir vigorously with a wire whip until the potato flour is well incorporated. Stir it into the Tzimmes, pouring it a little at a time into different parts of the dish. Cover and bake another 20 to 30 minutes.

Coleslaw has found its way into the homes of people throughout the world, yet each home cook seasons the dish with indigenous herbs and spices that completely transform it, giving the simple salad a unique twist. With the lively addition of prepared horseradish, this cabbage salad takes on an Eastern European flavor.


Yield: 6 to 8 servings

    4 cups (1 liter) coarsely shredded green cabbage
    2 cups (480 ml) coarsely shredded purple cabbage
    1 large carrot, coarsely shredded
    1/2 green bell pepper, diced
    1/2 red bell pepper, diced
    1/2 cup (120 ml) finely chopped sweet onion


    1 12.3-ounce (350g) box soft or firm silken tofu
    1/4 cup lemon juice
    2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon rice vinegar

    Paprika (garnish)

1 tablespoon minced parsley or dill

  1. Combine the cabbages, carrots, bell peppers, and onions in a large bowl.
  2. Place the silken tofu, lemon juice, horseradish, salt, and vinegar into the food processor and process until smooth and creamy.
  3. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss well. Transfer the cole slaw to an attractive serving bowl and sprinkle with paprika and parsley.

No traditional Hanukkah party would be complete with the customary potato latkes. Fried in oil until crisp and golden, these potato pancakes pay homage to the tiny cruse of oil that led to this holiday celebration. Topped with sour cream or applesauce or both, these flavorful latkes have become an essential dining experience during this Festival of Lights.

Potato Latkes


Yield: about 16 large latkes

    1/2 cup (120 ml) water
    1/4 cup (60 ml) whole flaxseeds (golden flax preferred)

    2 1/2 pounds (1 kilo) Russet potatoes, unpeeled, coarsely shredded
    1 medium onion, finely minced
    1/2 cup (120 ml) matzoh meal
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

    Canola oil

    1 recipe Tofu Sour Cream
    Prepared applesauce

  1. Combine the water and flaxseeds in the blender and blend on high speed for a full minute or until the mixture becomes viscous and reaches the consistency of thick oatmeal. Turn out into a large bowl, set aside, and add water to the blender to soak for easier cleanup.
  2. Squeeze out excess water from the shredded potatoes and add them to the large bowl along with the onions, matzoh meal, baking powder, salt, and pepper.
  3. The potatoes will seem dry, but careful and patient mixing will incorporate all the ingredients perfectly. Don't rush this critical step. Successful latkes depend on distributing the flaxseed meal throughout the potatoes to hold them together.
  4. Pour enough canola oil into a large frying pan to coat the bottom with 1/8-inch (.2 cm) of oil, and turn heat to medium-high. If using an electric frying pan, adjust the thermostat to 375 degrees (Gas Mark 5)
  5. When the oil is hot, drop about 3 or 4 tablespoons of potato mixture for each latke into the frying pan and flatten it slightly with the back of the spoon. If the latke is too thick, it will not cook through.
  6. Cook until the bottom is golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Turn with a metal spatula and cook the other side until golden brown. Drain the latkes on a platter lined with paper towels.
  7. Repeat the process until all the latkes are fried, stacking them between layers of paper towels. Transfer the latkes to a serving platter and serve with Tofu Sour Cream and applesauce.

Ah, strudel! Decadently rich and, oh, so nostalgically Old World. Yet, this version of strudel includes New World cranberries that blend into a divinely balanced sweet-tart gastronomic delight. Strudel is an ideal dessert for make-ahead planning and stores well in the refrigerator when prepared a day or two ahead. If this is your first encounter working with filo dough, here's a quick tip: after you've unrolled the dough, place it on a dishtowel. Remove one sheet at a time, and remember to keep the remaining sheets covered with another dishtowel to prevent the filo from drying out. Even though guests consider your entire meal a gourmet treat, it's the dessert they remember!

Cranberry Apple Cinnamon Strudel


Yield: about 30 pieces


    1 1/2 cups (360 ml) whole cranberries, washed and dried
    1 cup (240 ml) raw walnut pieces, chopped
    1 cup (240 ml) organic sugar
    3/4 cup (180 ml) black raisins
    2/3 cup (160 ml) almond meal
    1/2 cup (120 ml) golden raisins
    1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    2 pounds (1 kilo) Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored


    15 sheets filo dough
    1/3 cup (80 ml) canola oil


    2 tablespoons organic sugar
    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  1. Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, shiny side down, and brush the parchment or foil generously with canola oil. Set aside.
  2. TO MAKE THE FILLING: Into a large bowl place the cranberries, walnuts, organic sugar, black raisins, almond meal, golden raisins, cinnamon, and cardamom and mix well.
  3. Place the lemon juice into a medium bowl. Quarter, then dice the peeled and cored apples. Prevent them from turning brown by tossing them into the lemon juice to coat them. Add the apples to the fruit and nut mixture, tossing well to distribute all the ingredients evenly.
  4. TO WORK WITH THE DOUGH: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (Gas Mark 4) and prepare the workspace by placing a dishtowel vertically on the kitchen counter to your right. Open the package of filo and unroll the dough. Place it on the dishtowel, and cover it with another dishtowel to prevent it from drying.
  5. Remove one sheet of filo, and lay it on the counter horizontally in front of you. Using a pastry brush, brush the dough with canola oil. Remove another sheet of filo and lay it on top of the first sheet. Brush with oil. Repeat the process with three more filo sheets, using five sheets altogether.
  6. Place one-third of the filling horizontally along the filo sheet about 2-inches (5 cm) in from the edge nearest you. Leave about 1 1/2-inches (3.5 cm) on either end to tuck in. Lift up the edge of the filo dough and lay it over the filling. Tuck in both sides. Then roll up the strudel like a plump sushi, and place the roll onto the prepared baking sheet, seam side down. Brush the top with canola oil.
  7. Repeat the process with two more rolls, placing them next to the first roll on the baking sheet. Combine organic sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, and sprinkle the mixture over the tops of each roll. Using a serrated knife, cut 1 1/2-inch (3.5 cm) slices half-way through.
  8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove and cool about 10 minutes. Then cut through the slices and use a spatula to transfer them to a large serving platter.

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