according to cookery author, copeland marks from his book, sephardic cooking, sweet fritters called neyyappam were served at both hanukkah and on the day before yom kippur by the south indian jews of cochin.
the "black jews" of cochin [kochi] (kerala jews) are but one of three jewish groups known in india. the use of the word "black", while not politically correct these days, has often been used to describe them as they resemble the dark skinned local population and to distinguish them from another group called the "white jews". this particular group of jews has been in the south of india for many, many centuries and speak the local language, malayalam but a jewish version of it is spoken amongst themselves. how they got to india is a matter of speculation but there are some theories. their diet resembles that of the community around them, however the dietary laws are strictly observed. the food is quite spicy and very little meat is consumed. their diet is more or less vegetarian.
to date, there are few cochini families left. how many exactly, i do not know. most have now taken up residence in israel. according to this site,
In 1948, most of the 2,500 Jews that lived in Cochin emigrated to (Eretz) Israel leaving less than 100 there. The magnificent 16th century Paradesi synagogue in Cochin still exists.
our ingredients, cooked dishes, and recipes for them, reflect the areas in which we live. one of the examples of the cochini jews' existence in this part of the world are these sweet, deep-fried pillows of dough. the base of the batter for these fritters is both semolina and white flour. there are a variety of kinds of these appams, many made with rice (flour). as with several south indian foods like this, the batter ages (ferments) overnight to add a mildly sour balance to the final product. i imagine the fermentation also allows for the batter to lighten as is the case with the south indian bread called dosa.
south indian hanukkah fritters
it should be noted that this dessert/tea snack is eaten by the non jewish population also. it is not by any means unique to the jews of the area. the recipe is fabulously easy and almost all the ingredients are readily available in your kitchen.
this fritter is part of a group of snacks of the same sort, called appams. they are traditionally cooked in a vessel which is round and has several semi-circular depressions in it, much like the aebelskiver pan. the pan is heated and then is partially filled with oil and the batter added. after cooking on one side, it is turned and cooked on the other. seeing as not everybody commonly has such a pan, frying the batter in oil is the next alternative. i wonder however if it was done this way with the jewish community as frying things in oil is symbolic of the holiday of hanukkah. additionally, the use of an appam (or aebelskiver) pan would ensure their even shape unlike the odd and uncontrolled shapes obtained when frying in oil as done here. [interestingly enough, greek jews also had such a pan they used to cook their bimuelos (loukoumades) for hanukkah].
i urge you to try this, it is amazingly scrumptious! they are like little beignets and soft and spongy inside with small little surprises here and there, all contained by a nice outer somewhat crunchy coating. best enjoyed warm with a nice cup of tea or coffee, i assure you, there will be no leftovers. [as a note, when i make these i usually cut the recipe in half which makes approximately one dozen plus a few extra. for a crowd, make the whole recipe].
2 c water
1/2 c sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 c AP flour
1 c semolina / sooji (not pasta flour!)
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp chopped almonds (coarsely)
1 tbsp chopped cashews (coarsely)
1 tbsp golden raisins [i used dried cranberries]
2 dates, pitted and chopped
2 dried apricots, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp dried coconut
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cardamom
prepare all the ingredients by chopping them and measuring the flours, etc.
boil water and measure out 2 cups of water and put it in a bowl. add the sugar and the salt and stir. makes sure it dissolves and let it come to room temperature.
add the semolina, flour, fruit and nuts and mix together well.
cover this and let it stand overnight to ferment. i put it in the oven with the pilot light on. you will notice that there will be some liquid gathered on the surface. that is normal and a reaction of the fermentation process.
the next day, heat several cups of oil for frying over medium heat. just before you fry the fritters, add the baking powder and cardamom.
drop by tablespoon into the oil and cook until browned about 4 to 5 minutes. remove and place on paper towels.
let the fritters cool a bit before serving; the paper towel will absorb the excess oil.
these can be served with powdered sugar sprinkled over them.