On Hanukkah we remember not just the courageous military exploits of the Maccabees: since the Middle Ages, it has also been the custom to commemorate the derring-do of a fearless woman.
When the ruthless Assyrian general Holofernes laid siege to the city of Bethulia, a beautiful devout widow, Judith, devised a scheme based on what she knew best–food. Seduced by her loveliness, Holofernes invited her into his tent, where he lay under a canopy woven with purple silk, gold, and emeralds. There she fed him the salty cheese she had brought. A morsel of cheese, then a quaff of wine to slake his salty throat. And with each bite of cheese, his thirst grew ever more demanding. At last the wicked general fell into a drunken sleep, whereupon the resourceful widow grabbed a saber and beheaded him. She put the head in a bag and quietly stole out of camp.
Early the next day, the head was impaled on the city walls. Holofernes’ frightened soldiers fled, leaving behind their vast plundered riches, and the siege of Bethulia was broken.
Dairy products like cheese latkes are frequently eaten on Hanukkah in memory of Judith’s deed. Here the feta, an echo of her salty cheese, is offset not by wine, but the fresh tastes of green herbs and lemon.
Keep both cheeses refrigerated until you are ready to start preparing the latkes, so they will be as firm as possible. Pat the cheeses dry with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, cut each cheese into 8 thin slices. If a slice crumbles as you are cutting, pat or mold it back into shape with your hands.
Take a slice of feta, sprinkle it with
Dip the latke first into the egg and then the matzoh crumbs. Continue making latkes with the remaining cheese and herbs. Refrigerate the latkes for at least 30 minutes.
Drain briefly on paper towels or other absorbent paper. Serve immediately, garnished with lemon and sprinkled with herbs.
© 2008 Jayne Cohen. All rights reserved.