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 consistency 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.

INGREDIENTS

Latkes:

  • 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)

PROCEDURE

  • 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!

51 Comments Add yours

  1. ShiraDest says:

    Yes!! We’re getting closer to sufganiot!! 🙂
    🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. We are – don’t worry, darling!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. ShiraDest says:

        Lol! 🙂
        I’ve been Chesheching for sufganiot for so long!! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I know – for a whole year, right?

        Liked by 2 people

      3. ShiraDest says:

        Longer -I didn’t get any last year!!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. ShiraDest says:

        No worries, I lived! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I am sure that it’s only a thought of sufganiot that motivated you to live!

        Liked by 2 people

      6. ShiraDest says:

        LOL!! 🙂 Surely!! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. ShiraDest says:

    And May your father’s memory always be for a blessing. Z’lBrachah

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Amen!
      Thank you, dear Shira!
      Much love,
      D

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ShiraDest says:

        Much love to you, too, Dolly!
        S.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. ShiraDest says:

    Oh, and I’m sharing this post for Thursday evening, if that’s ok?
    Shira

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Of course, and I thank you, and you don’t have to ask.
      However, there will be more Chanukkah posts coming, including one about a very special child.
      And sufganiot, too!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. ShiraDest says:

        Excellent! I’m hoping to fill some of my Chanukah evenings by reposting your posts!! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. What – you have nothing more interesting to do?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. You have the right words and most inviting food and setting for the season. Big Hugs snd Cheers!🌺💗🌺🍮🍮

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for a lovely comment, darling! Hugs right back to you! 😻

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Bigger ones to you! 💗 )))XOXO(((🍮🍂🍮💗

        Liked by 1 person

  5. SAM VOELKER says:

    Wow Knowing you I am learning a lot about the history that I missed in school, also a lot about cooking but I may just end up a fat expert on the Jewish people when it is too late to pass it on.

    Don’t know exactly how to say it but:
    Happy Chanukkah~!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, Sam, and you are saying it the right way!
      My husband tells me that Cajun music has a washboard with two sticks for a rhythm section instead of drums. I said I would ask my Cajun expert, so I am asking: is this true?

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I always find your posts very interesting, Dolly. Thanks for the recipes too.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear Roberta; I appreciate your stopping by and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. SAM VOELKER says:

    With Cajun or Creole music, It is hard to say which method each person would use to make the sounds of music, because it is, after all, folk music~! Actually they use almost anything sitting around from hitting on a whiskey bottle with a big nail to a cow bell and dog whistle….but the most common is to use a washboard, normally it is strummed using sewing thimbles on their fingers, in this way they can strum it up and down to the rhythm almost like strumming a guitar. (I note in the attached “add” they talk about using a “church key” (which is an old time metal beer can opener) I prefer the sound of the thimble as it is a more smooth sound. The drum is called a “CAJON” pronounced “K-hon” (not like their name), which is a wood box about 18 inches square, with a large hole near the bottom…They sit on this and slap their hands on the sides to the beat, like a base drum…to be more fancy they will sometime attach a screen door spring inside which gives the rattle much like a snare drum. The best accompaniment though is the “squeezebox, Cajun/Creole concertina and it can really blast out a lot of sound, the notes are (by-directional) like a harmonica, in other words a different note whether pulling or pushing the air. Often a fiddle and a banjo will be added to this “noise”~! Also you will often hear a Jew’s Harp, or spoons rattled between their fingers…I can do this..~!

    Oh Wow~!
    I promise to finish my article on “My Barn” where I have, and can photograph a few of these “instruments”~!

    CAJUN WASHBOARD ….
    https://larkinthemorning.com/products/rub002?variant=52877797523&currency=USD&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=google+shopping&utm_campaign=gs-2018-08-02&utm_source=google&utm_medium=smart_campaign&gclid=Cj0KCQiA5bz-BRD-ARIsABjT4ni-h3BUtILJzeP8cW1jCXfezod4VmPnToLWBFa4pv97mf_DfLO3YkMaAgf3EALw_wcB

    CAJON
    https://www.google.com/search?q=cajon+drum&client=firefox-b-1-d&sxsrf=ALeKk003CZ5IOu4BXy-IbK1DdooqpEr8Ww:1607453824684&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=HVX8IKQY3QaZaM%252CC4BoiH9TnjCDaM%252C%252Fm%252F02_7fj&vet=1&usg=AI4_-kTVTjTdI0qGl3sSH8fv0KKBHVoyqg&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiUzdmRiL_tAhULlKwKHS4LCoQQ_B16BAghEAE#imgrc=HVX8IKQY3QaZaM

    CONCERTINA:
    https://www.google.com/search?q=cajun+concertina&client=firefox-b-1-d&sxsrf=ALeKk00cTVQrlz8WLbjuot2DBrfVoW2Lsg:1607453950548&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=ypskIG6cpUMkZM%252C31mXgiNTBbhvMM%252C_&vet=1&usg=AI4_-kRo76B4K1QclBJBksxRFQn3Jsfw4A&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjN6tvNiL_tAhVGXK0KHU2BCBMQ_h16BAgcEAE#imgrc=sSMjqJI5yEHJ8M

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I thank you so much for a fascinating lesson on Cajun/Creole music and their instruments, Sam. I truly appreciate the links. Both concertina and wooden spoons are standard in Russian folk music, but I’ve never heard the spoons called Jew’s Harp. I think it’s because up until the end of 19th century, people in Russian villages had not seen a Jew.
      I’ll be on the lookout for your article about Cajun/Creole music.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. feistyfroggy says:

    Very interesting post!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, dear friend!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. SAM VOELKER says:

      I guess I ran my description together and had hesitated to call it that as it has several other names but it is not a put down that is the most common name, but I bet you know it by some other name.because it is common all over You will enjoy reading about it here…
      https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=jew%27s+harp

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Don’t worry, dear friend, I am not offended at all. There is a Jew fish in Florida and Jew Fish Creek where it lives, so I am not supposed to be sailing there?
        I was simply wondering because Russians also play wooden spoons but they don’t call them that, and in the villages, where they play folk instruments, they have not seen Jews or heard of them until the end of 19th century.
        Here is a Russian clip for you:

        Like

      2. Just opened your link. I misunderstood – my bad! I know it as a Galician harp.

        Like

  9. Your stories and recipes are so good. May your father’s sweet memory always be a blessing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kindness, dear MImi!

      Like

  10. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    L’CHATM—TO LIFE

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, der friend! Cheers – with homemade cranberry juice!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. What a splendid device for outwitting the oppressors

    Liked by 3 people

    1. We follow the example of our forefather Jacob.
      Thank you so much, Derrick.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Happy Chanukkah, to you too Dolly! Thank you for another great story, and the usage of the dreidel. Wish the result of your recipe, the baking would be done, just after reading it. Lol Have a beautiful week! Michael

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for a lovely comment, Michael. But stay tuned – more Chanukkah recipes are coming up!
      Happy Chanukkah to you and yours and a great week!

      Like

  13. Fartfist says:

    This is superb. I am honored to follow you.
    Thanks again. I like this very much.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by and for your kind comment.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Reblogged this on koolkosherkitchen and commented:

    On the third night of Chanukkah, I am repeating this very special recipe in memory of my father, may he rest in peace, for whom no Chanukkah was real without these latkes. Enjoy, Beautiful People!

    Like

  15. Doug Thomas says:

    Very informative! I didn’t know anything – it turned out! – about the history and intent of the dreidel. FI remember eating buckwheat pancakes as a child, though it wasn’t something we had on any regular basis. I think we ate them with maple syrup, but the berry sauce would have3 made them more acceptable to my taste! (I remember them as being of a strong, bitter taste not to my liking at the time!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Doug.
      Why would there be bitter taste, I wonder… Nutty flavor, yes, and buckwheat blini has the same nutty flavor that goes so well with caviar.

      Like

      1. Doug Thomas says:

        I haven’t eaten buckwheat pancakes in – a guess – 65 years or so, so my memory is there was a bitter taste or something that didn’t appeal to my young taste buds.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Young taste buds are quirky; I can tell you looking at my grandkids, especially the youngest one whose taste changes every day.

        Like

      3. Doug Thomas says:

        This is true. I didn’t like bananas as a kid because of the texture, but that’s no issue now. Other than that, I don’t recall anything I didn’t like. Similarly, I used to use ketchup on lots of things. Now, I rarely use it.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Ha! I recall a Polish immigrant saying, years ago, that the only reason Americans would ever go to war with Russia is if the Russians stole all the ketchup from them. My youngest granddaughter wants ketchup on everything, from hot dogs to sushi.

        Like

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