Gambling for Education and Retchene Latkes

To continue with the story of Chanukkah and latkes, Judea was eventually captured by the Romans. Some of the Roman rulers could care less about various religions of the occupied territories, or provinces, as long as the taxes were collected regularly and accurately. Some others, however, persecuted Jews relentlessly; Emperor Hadrian even earned the nickname “Destroyer of the Jews.” Once again, all Jewish learning was forbidden, once again brave little bands of fighters rose again their oppressors. And once again, my inquisitive four-year-old brain put a story together that went like this:

Children were given a dreidel (spinning top), with four sides. On each side there was a Hebrew letter: Nun, Gimmel, Hei, and Shin. They were also given some coins so that when Roman soldiers, who were notorious gamblers, would come across a group of kids sitting with their teacher, they would find an innocent game of top going on and even invited to participate. In reality, the letters were an abbreviation of a phrase Nes Gadol Haya Sham (a great miracle happened there), and the dreidel served as a visual and kinesthetic aid for a lesson on Chanukkah.


Contrary to a cute and very popular song, we, as kids, had a tin-plate dreidel, made by my great-grandfather, and it was spinning perfectly. Even though we were given Chanukkah gelt (money, not gifts!), we were not allowed to use it for gambling; instead, we had to use roasted walnuts. The rules of the game are very simple:

You start by placing your bets – equal and agreed amounts. Then you take turns spinning. If it lands letter Nun up, it means “nichts” (“nothing” in Yiddish), so nothing happens, and the dreidel passes to the next person. If it lands on Gimmel – “gantz” (“everything” in Yiddish), you just got lucky, and you take the bank. If Hey –  “halb” (“half”) shows up, you are only half-lucky; you take half of the bank, which is better than none! And if you hit Shin – “shtel” (“put in”), you have to add to the bank. Incidentally, in Israel, where the great miracle of Chanukkah did happen, the dreidels have a letter Peh, for Po – here, instead of Sham – there.

You don’t need to know Yiddish to see a little discrepancy here: Yiddish is one of the Jewish languages of the exile; it simply did not exist before the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans. Some scholars figured out elaborate Gematria (numerology): the four letters, added in a certain way, equal 358, which is the numerological equivalent of the word Messiah.  Others suggested that the letters stand for the names of the four kings who have tried to destroy the Jews in Ancient times. Surprisingly, however, the game is only a variation of the German “trundl” game which, in turn, is a variation of the English Totum, or Teetotum game (“totum” means “all” in Latin), where the rules were the same, represented by four Latin letters.

Chanukkah gelt, though, is really related to education. Says the Talmud that Chanukkah lights are holy, thus are not to be used for any mundane purpose, such as counting money. Another visual and kinesthetic lesson for all times: don’t count your Chanukkah gelt in front of Chanukkah lights. Chocolate coins fall under the same rule. Walnuts, or any other nuts, in Yiddish are called “nisim” – another reminder of Nes Gadol, the great miracle of Chanukkah. And because nuts there were aplenty, but potatoes had not existed yet (for explanation, please see But Hannah Did Not Have Potatoes! Latkes with a Tropical Twist.), the all-around favorites in our family were Retchene (buckwheat) latkes that have a subtle nutty taste.

ret ltks 1.jpg

As in all my latkes recipes, the  constant is non-dairy prostokvasha, or clabbered milk (for recipe, click here). You can substitute any non-dairy (or dairy, if you are so inclined) buttermilk, kefir, or yogurt. I use eggs, but egg substitutes will work. Add some agave to sweeten them, a little baking powder, salt and pepper, and a dash of cinnamon.

ret ltks 2.jpg

Add your wet ingredients to buckwheat flour and mix everything together really well. You will get a thick and sticky batter, more like soft dough than your usual pancake batter. As long as there are no lumps, that’s how it should be.

ret ltks 3.jpg

Fry them for about five minutes on each side on a lightly misted with oil frying pan, medium heat. Hint: when you flip them, press lightly on top to flatten them, otherwise the middle will remain uncooked.  Some batter will be squeezed out, but don’t worry – it’ll fry. Remove them to a plate lined with paper towels to blot out excess grease.

blueberry sauce 1.jpg

Meanwhile, you can use a few minutes to make  berry sauce. I happen to love blueberries, especially when they are in season, huge like cherries, and juicy. But you can use cranberries, or any berries you like. Just throw them into a saucepan, cover with sweet light red wine, add agave to taste, and bring to boil. Then reduce heat and let them simmer until they start bursting. Gently squash them, but gently! – or else you’ll be splashed, you’ll look funny, and your kids will laugh at you. Now, stir and let them simmer some more, as the liquid evaporates to the thickness you prefer.


The silver dreidel you see on most of my Chanukkah-related photos is not real. It cannot be used to play (don’t think the grandkids haven’t tried!). It’s not made by Frank Meisler, even though the style is similar. It doesn’t open, and there are no surprises hidden inside. Still, it is very precious to me because my father, may he rest in peace,  brought it for us from Israel. Every year I made delicious Retchene latkes, my father’s favorite kind, and this year I’ll have them on my table again, and we’ll drink a Lechayim to my father’s memory.



  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 cup protokvasha (clabbered milk) or any buttermilk, kefir, or yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg or substitute
  • 1 tablespoon agave
  • A pinch of cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Berry sauce:

  • 1 pint fresh berries
  • 1/2 cup sweet red or pink wine
  • 1/2 cup or more agave (to taste)


  • Add baking powder and cinnamon to buckwheat flour, add the rest of Latkesingredients, mix thoroughly.
  • Preheat frying pan to medium, lightly mist with oil. Spoon batter onto frying pan, fry for 5 minutes on each side. When turning over, gently press down. Remove, blot excess grease with paper towels.
  • Place berries into saucepan, add wine and agave, bring to boil, reduce to simmer. In about 10 minutes, when berries start bursting, gently crush them, stir and continue simmering until liquid evaporates to desired consistency.
  • Serve Latkes with sauce on the side.

Have a Happy Chanukkah – enjoy!


27 Comments Add yours

  1. weggieboy says:

    It’s always interesting to stop by your blog! I enjoy the explanations of Jewish customs and the way you bring everyting together with yummy recipes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Doug! I am terribly behind reading my favorite blogs, yours included. Please make my apologies to The Adorables!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. weggieboy says:

        This is a busy time for you, so I understand! All those yummy meals don’t just happen.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for understanding, Doug! Yes, meals don’t just happen; I have three feline helpers, but one of them is a vegetarian, believe it or not. She is not interested in anything but vegetables, and she steals salad greens and fresh herbs.


      3. weggieboy says:

        I hope your vegetarian kitty girl gets her nuitritional needs somehow.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Oh, she eats normal kitty food for indoor cats, together with the other two, but when I cooking, she is not interested in poultry or fish, like the other guys. She only steals greens, takes them to the floor and eats them. I did ask the vet, and he said that she simply craves the taste of “green grass” because during her early childhood weeks in the wild, that’s all she had. You cannot imagine how tiny and how hungry she was when we brought her home; she was ravenous, the poor baby!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. weggieboy says:

        Good! Thanks for letting me know that! Andy’s my greens eater here, though he doesn;’t eat much more than cat grass or catnip.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I know you are concerned about my kitties, as I am for yours. Mine have a drug-free attitude: they don’t react to catnip.


      7. weggieboy says:

        Dougy barely does and Andy shows some effects, but doesn’t behave in a “fun” way. The main thing is they get some greens in their diet this way. You know how cat grass is – it doesn’t last long. Andy fdoes like it, so I periodically try to grow some for him. Dougy doesn’t eat it.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. I don’t use cat grass. Following our vet’s dictum, we feed them indoor cats’ dry food, supplemented by “cat candy,” i.e. treats they only eat from my hand in the morning, and wet food once a week. This combination is supposed to have all the nutrients they require.


      9. weggieboy says:

        It is interesting how much variability there is in veterinarian recommendations!

        Liked by 1 person

      10. As much as there are different animals, I guess. Great news here: the first Cat Cafe opened in our area, two blocks away from our house!


      11. weggieboy says:

        Interesting! It woukld be fgun to visit one, though I’d have Andy and Dougy sniffing me all over when i came home.

        Liked by 1 person

      12. The kitties are in their own “paradise,” and you can sit behind glass and watch them, or you can donate $15 to go in and play with them for an hour. State regulations of some sort, I was told.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I usually use buckwheat flour in savory pancakes (served with smoked salmon or caviar). Your post motivated me to try it with sweet ones as well. Happy Hanukkah to you too! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I usually make oatmeal and rye mini-blinis to serve with caviar; that’s more of a Moscow tradition. In Odessa, we made mini vol-au-vents and filled them with salmon gravlax and with caviar, on top on herbed butter, garnished with dill and scallions. I did that for my father’s 85th birthday, Oleve v’Shalom.
      Thank you for your comment, dear Ronit, and Happy Chanukkah!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. mmm that sounds good! Happy Hanukkah to you too. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. randyjw says:

    My Rabbi had taught us the Roman soldier version of the story of the dreidl. Like kasha latkes; yum!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes, kids are usually taught the Roman soldier version.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You teach me so much, and your recipes look fun to try. This weekend, i am determined!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Mimi! Let me know if you try, please!


  5. I loved the history lesson about the dreidl. I learn so much from you. I am not Jewish, but i am learning a lot about the Jewish culture, religion and traditions through you. I love to learn about different cultures all the time. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your interest and your kind comment, darling! I also love to learn about different cultures, customs, and traditions. The more we learn about each other, the better we will be able to live and love all different people.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is so true. If only more people would do that, the world would be a much better place.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. spearfruit says:

    These look inviting treats and interesting story Dolly

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Gary


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s