Cornucopia of YUM for Hanukkah: The Chef’s Garden

This year, Hanukkah is very early and very different. Inflation, employment, pandemic and supply-chain issues have probably changed your idea of what would make a great gift. In my family, the best gifts were always given on the first night of the holiday and sometimes there was one “for the house”. This year, the festival celebrating the “Festival of Lights starts on the evening of Sunday, November 28 (Thanksgiving weekend) and goes until sundown on December 6. MyJewishLearning.com describes the holiday as “commemorate(ing) the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greek army and the subsequent miracle of rededicating the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and restoring its menorah, or lamp. The miracle of Hanukkah is that only one vial of oil was found with just enough oil to illuminate the Temple lamp for one day, and yet it lasted for eight full days.”

This year, it can feel like a miracle to get good-quality groceries. So, why not treat yourself, your loved ones to a box of the freshest, most-perfect veggies, herbs and edible flowers from The Chef’s Garden? You’ll be accessing the same lovingly grown, specialty products as requested and used by some of the most acclaimed restaurants ever: Per Se, Ever, Eleven Madison Park, Alinea, Mini Bar by José Andrés, Cosmo, Del Posto and Disney restaurants. I was happy to be hosted to experience it!

Farmer Lee Jones, the universally acclaimed proprietor of The Chef’s Garden, sells several varieties of curate vegetable/herb boxes, picked to order and available in different sizes, sent lickedy-split to your home. These include impossible to attain baby sizes, heirloom varieties and fresh, seasonal fare. Select what you might like to create delicious Hanukkah meals!

Hanukkah features a lot of fried foods, as well as dairy. You’re going to want something crisp and fresh to contrast! Here, I composed a salad with mixed petite greens of different colors and flavors – some sweeter and buttery, some with crisp bitter notes.

You can garnish and add crunch with petite radishes of different colors with their peppery fresh greens intact. Radish roots have some staying power in the fridge, but not their greens, so use them Day 1. I added some sweetness with sliced apple. Then, I copied a restaurant that’s no longer in business that I always called “Cheese Place”. I took some nice goat cheese medallions, dipped them in egg, then in a crushed pistachio and panko mix. I sauteed those a minute or so each side.

For such a salad, I felt a not-too-sweet, not-too-sharp dressing was in order. I used a pomegranate (mentioned in the Bible so many times!) balsamic vinegar, rose water (very Levant flavor), Maldon sea salt, olive oil, pink peppercorns, freshly ground black pepper.

I added some of The Chef’s Garden raw pea pods – you can do that when they’re so perfectly baby and fresh! – in different colors.

This is a perfect salad for Hanukkah, with its ancient flavors, light freshness with fall aspects and a touch of fried nuts, for the miracle of lights as well as traditional to the holiday dairy.

Garnish the salad with The Chef’s Garden’s edible flowers. They have different flavors and colors which will add to the visual and palate fun. They advise that you handle the flowers with gloves (I used tweezers) so as not to get oils on the delicate flowers. This is a different flavor profile than the ubiquitous nut-dried cranberry-greens salad.

Set on your table a dish of grated fresh horseradish from The Chef’s Garden with some of their edible flowers. Serve with cheese plates, crudites, next to cold sauce or mayo boats.

What can you do with gorgeous petite squashes? In the “before time”, some wag would have probably said something like, “They’re almost too pretty to eat!” and just let them live their lives on the fireplace mantle. If you haven’t learned by now, you’d better learn fast: with veggies, treat them like meats’ “nose-to-toes” concept. Use all the parts. It’s time to get frugal!

I made stuffed squashes with Israeli couscous! I saved the seeds, toasted them and I will use them to top sourdough breads. I scooped out the meat, roasting the shells for about a ½ hour. Coucous was cooked with pre-made veggie stock (with carcasses and ends of other veggies!). While some stuffed veggie recipes may have fruit, I took baby red pepper instead, chopping and frying in oil. I added cubes of squash and then, finely coined carrots, because Hanukkah gelt ($) is a big tradition. Fry them just a touch, you want them to remain crisp. Season with chopped carrot greens.

I did my own riff off the creamed spinach in The Chef’s Garden cookbook – another fabulous idea for a Hanukkah present!

This is a home cook’s version of Patrick O’Connell’s Beet Tartare. It has thinly sliced beets. They suggest a mandolin and 2 super-sliced thumbs later, I agree. I used a special berry vodka made by Middle West Spirits in Ohio for an aspic, along with homemade crème fraiche and American whitefish caviar quenelles.

I don’t think there’s anything more southern than okra. My dad used to love it! But there is a trick to not having it slime all over the place: cut it right as you are ready to dunk it. Do not let it sit around for any length of time at all. I used a whipped whole egg in one dish and mixed cornmeal, flour and seasoning salt to dredge in. Fry it about 2 minutes each side. So crunchy and tasty! Serve with whatever fancy paper napkins you have in a basket.

Latkes with cheese not only celebrate the Macabees, but also Biblical Judith. (see cover photo) According to the Detroit News, she enticed the Assyrian general Holofernes – sent to destroy the Jews – with tasty, salty cheese cakes and wine. Lots of it. He passed out and she beheaded him.

So, you can make wonderful latkes with The Chef’s Garden mixed color baby potatoes. Pulse in a contained food processor or blender. Add bunched green onions, sharp white cheddar, salt, paprika, black pepper, panko crumbs and a couple of whipped eggs. Form into patties and fry a few minutes each side.

To accompany, I made stewed spiced apples with The Chef’s Garden fresh (!) horseradish grated in, a little like charoset, but not so sweet. I also took a couple of days – but barely seconds to prepare – to make crème fraiche.

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