Here’s a Hanukkah side dish that represents so much more than something tasty to serve at dinnertime. I’ve cut carrots into coins and called them Hanukkah Gelt so the story of Hanukkah can be retold each year and celebrated in joyful long-standing tradition.
These carrot coins are sautéed with a Middle Eastern herbal blend called zaatar and make a flavorful dish served during the eight days of Hanukkah. If yellow carrots are available, they would look even more like gold coins than the orange ones. Some food distributors have yellow carrots available year round. (See below).
What is Hanukkah gelt?
Gelt is a Yiddish word meaning money. In ancient times, money was in the form of gold coins. Today, many Jewish families give Hanukkah gelt, or Hanukkah money to their children during the eight days of Hanukkah. Some families give real coins, while others present the kids with coins formed from chocolates wrapped in gold foil and stamped to look like gold coins. These little gold coins, made in different sizes, are wrapped in tiny mesh bags and sold in groceries across the country during the November/December holiday season.
It’s a fun tradition the kids look forward to each year, but how did this practice begin? Meaningful historical events contributed many reasons to give Hanukkah gelt, not only to children, but, sometimes, to others in the community.
How did Hanukkah begin?
Hanukkah, known as the Festival of Lights, celebrates the re-dedication of an ancient Jewish Temple that was desecrated by Greek armies. The Jews fought back and won and restored their ruined temple. In the wreckage, they found a tiny bottle of sanctified oil to relight the eternal light over the altar, but there was only enough oil to last one day. The miracle was that tiny bottle of oil burned for eight days. To commemorate the miraculous event the people celebrated in a grand and very fitting way–by lighting candles and celebrating for eight nights in remembrance of the miracle. The tradition was called Hanukkah.
Many families created their own Hanukiah or Hanukkah Menorah, a candelabra with nine branches, eight to hold the eight candles for each of the eight nights the oil burnt, and an extra branch to hold the special candle, the shamash, that lights the other candles.
Hanukkah gelt tradition
Hanukkah lights are considered sacred and are never snuffed out. Instead, the candles are allowed to burn until they go out naturally. Because the lights are considered sacred, they are not used for other purposes, such as using the light to count coins. So families gave their children coins, or Hanukkah gelt, to reinforce the rule and honor the sacred candles.
Because the Hanukkah lights were so venerated, families made it an annual ritual to remember the miracle of the oil. They gave Hanukkah gelt to the poor so they, too, could afford to buy candles to commemorate the holiday.
During the Greek army invasion, the Jews were forced to give up their religious rituals and adopt only Greek practices. During that long period, many Jews forgot their traditions and Torah lessons and had to relearn them when the temple was restored. Families gave their children Hanukkah gelt during Hanukkah as a reward for Torah study.
Jews also gave Hanukkah gelt to celebrate their freedom from the Greek armies and their return to their own traditions. Rather than placing value on material gifts to celebrate the holiday, the Hanukkah gelt represented a celebration of spiritual values.
Today’s Hanukkah rituals
Because Jews follow a lunar calendar, their holidays don’t always fall on the same date of our Gregorian, or Western calendar. Frequently, though, Hanukkah occurs in December during the festive Christmas season and has suffered the influence of commercialism to varying degrees. Many families give material gifts to their children along with the gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins. Tradition does prevail in some families where Hanukkah gelt, the real thing, offers an opportunity for parents to retell the story of Hanukkah to the children.
Yield: about 4 to 5 servings
3 large carrots, sliced into coins
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon zaataar
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
- In a large, deep skillet, combine the carrots, shallots, water, zaatar, canola oil, and garlic. Cook and stir over high or medium-high heat for about 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 or more tablespoons of water as needed to cook the carrots and prevent burning.
- When the carrots are beginning to soften, add the salt and pepper and cook until all the liquid is absorbed. Continue to cook and stir until the carrots are slightly browned.
Note: Zaatar is a traditional Middle Eastern herb blend with a long history and is used throughout the Fertile Crescent, Iraq, Arabian peninsula, and Israel. Many food historians believe the original zaatar was made of hyssop. Today, the mixture frequently consists of ground thyme, sesame seeds, salt, and sumac and is available in Middle Eastern groceries. Some cooks may include oregano, marjoram, savory, cumin, coriander, or fennel seeds. The herb blend is used as a seasoning on meats and vegetables, but it’s zaatar manakeesh we see most often, which consists of combining the herb blend with olive oil and spreading it over pita bread.
Yellow Carrots available at:
Specialty Produce http://www.specialtyproduce.com
Melissa’s Produce http://www.melissas.com