Thursday, December 21, 2006

sweet couscous and the 7th night

around this time — the six & seventh nights — i always seem to feel a bit sad that, in another day or two, the holidays will soon be over for us and "the rest of the world" is just only beginning their full revelry and merriment. while others will still have christmas trees blinking and presents underneath them, the smell of pine wafting through the air, holiday music in the background and fireplaces crackling away, my home will be back to the normal everyday routine and unadorned. and when everyone else will wake up to open presents, many jewish families will be planning which movies to see on december 25th and where to "go for chinese" this year. mmmm, eggrolls. yes, that's what many of us do when nothing BUT nothing is open on the 25th of december, save for the corner stores, local video/dvd shop and of course, the theatres and chinese restaurants. i am sure we must be their biggest cashpull in north america on that day. some traditions die hard.

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the seventh night of hanukkah is a special night. it actually has a name and is called (c)hag ha'banot [חג הבנות], or loosely translated, festival of the daughters. it commemorates the heroism of judith [יהודית], the jewish woman who killed the enemy, the assyrian general holofernes, and helped in saving the jewish people after the destruction of their holy temple, central to judaism.

photo: wikipedia painting by Christophano Allori, dated 1613

judith's importance as a heroine has been featured on various menoras of antiquity [medieval] and is a popular named given to jewish girls to this day. this is the basis for the evening of the seventh candle in countries of north africa such as morocco, tunisia and algeria. it is also the evening of two important events: the slaying of holofernes and the new moon of the month of tevet [טבת] or as it is called in hebrew, rosh (c)hodesh [ראש חודש]. rosh (c)hodesh is also significant as it is usually celebrated by women.

this celebration on the seventh night is primarily observed by women, and with much enjoyment. dancing and feasting are high on the list. dairy foods are eaten and to drink, is milk and/or buttermilk. in particular, a dish of sweetened couscous either very simply made, as seen below, or more elaborately prepared with a variety of sweet dried fruit. i seem to have some remote memory of salty feta filled burekas being served near the last day of hanukkah which is probably related to the salty cheese in the story of how judith made holofernes very thirsty forcing him to drink copious amounts of wine and eventually lead to his demise once well-inebriated.

to read more about this celebration, read the ritualwell article. of note is that women can celebrate this at home. the authors explains the how and why.

i will add here that i have seen this being noted as a celebration which takes place on the occasion of the 6th candle. rosh (c)hodesh this month takes place over two days.

here are two recipes for you to try (and the burekas 0ne from the link above).

sweet couscous

serves 6 (dairy)

According to The Book of Jewish Food, sweet couscous is a festive Jewish dish in North Africa. In Morocco, it was served at Hanukkah in bowls with wooden spoons. It is the custom to serve cold milk or buttermilk with it, in little tea glasses.


1 cup couscous
boiling water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon unsalted butter or margarine
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon confectioner's sugar, or to taste

1/3 cup raisins, soaked in warm water for a few minutes


Prepare the couscous: Place 1 cup of couscous, salt, margarine and 1 cup of boiling water in a large bowl; stir to mix, cover the bowl with a plate and allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes. At this point, some recipes call for occasional stirring with a fork to fluff it while it is steaming; others call for not stirring until it is fully steamed. If the couscous is still crunchy, add 1/4 cup more of boiling water, cover and let sit another 5 minutes. Then stir it to fluff and separate the grains of couscous.

Claudia Roden offers serving ideas:

serve this shaped as a cone, sprinkled with lines of cinnamon and confectionery sugar down the sides, and raisins if you wish; with a mixture of toasted pine nuts, chopped almonds and pistachios; with dates and chopped almonds on top.

recipe excerpted from

ricotta latkes — לביבות גבינת ריקוטה

a light dairy latke which cookbook author gloria kaufer-greene says predates potato latkes. these, therefore, must be quite old. potatoes only came to ashkenazi jews in recent history from south america.

you can cut the recipe in half and use a smaller container of ricotta if it is only for a few people. a full recipe yields about 30 - 2 inch (small) latkes as per the author though i get more than that. they are very light and one can easily consume many. they are very, very good.


one 15 or 16 oz container ricotta
4 eggs
6 tbsp AP flour
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 or 2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 - 2 pkgs vanilla sugar [my addition]


mix all together in a blender or food processor and blend until creamy. the batter will be like a thinner than regular cheesecake one.

fry on medium heat until golden brown in butter. they will puff up a bit but not stay that way. take care when flipping them as they are fragile. i would not recommend crowding the pan.

serve with conserves, jam and/or sour cream.



Diana said...

Nice blog - gorgeous photos

Pammie said...

Hi Burekaboy,

Yes it must be kind of weird having your holidays and culture swamped by the overwhelming commercialism of Christmas and just the sheer ratio of Christians:Jews in North America (and elsewhere I guess). You know so much about Judaism, I am surprised, these days I don't think many people know the stories and rituals of religion as indepth as you.

I always thought that Israel would be a terrible place to live, out in the desert surrounded by so many hostile people, and that people must be very loyal to their faith to want to live out there. But I guess it kind of makes sense, it would be nice finally being in a country that is populated by people of your own culture and religion, and finally feeling at home.

burekaboy — said...

diana - thanks for dropping by and the nice comments. i could say the same of yours :) i appreciate the information and work that goes into your site.

pammie - ha! looks can be deceiving. there is PLENTY i don't know. i think people tend to hold on to their traditions even more when they are surrounded by another culture or religion which is different from their own, be it jewish or otherwise. more and more it seems to me many a christian is fed up with the over-commercialization of Xmas, too.

in terms of israel, it is a place that must be visited to understand the success of it. while there is much that can be disputed in terms of land claims and the constant threat of hostilities errupting, it has provided jews with a homeland to call their own after centuries of exile. it is an incredible place to visit and very modern. i'm sure you'd enjoy it.

shelly said...

Walla! Bikhlal lo yadati al khag habanot! Me'od me'anyen. Gam lo yadati sheYehudith natna lo yayin, hashavti tamid shezeh haya khalav kham shehirdim oto. Vebikhlal, khashavti shekol hasipur kashur lekhag hashavuot. Bekhol mikreh, levivot haricotta nishma'ot te'imot beyoter :). Ve burekas feta, mmm.... mizmaaaaaaaaaan lo akhalti burekas. Ba li pit'om lehakhin burekasim :).