Say “Cheese!”

A cheese-lover can’t help but get excited about the approach of an eight-day holiday in which there is a custom to eat cheese. The custom is derived from the defeat of the Greek general Holofernes by Yehudit, daughter of Yochanan Kohen Gadol, by means of salty cheese.

Very often, less is more when cooking with cheese. “Over-cheesing” is a good way to ruin an appetite—no one enjoys attempting to swallow a big wad of cheese, nor is it pleasant to the palate. However, a nice little shaving of Parmesan or Pecorino can add a unique complexity of flavor and texture to a dish, an incomparable finishing touch; a small crumble of feta can add a subtle nuance of taste without overpowering the other elements present.

There are many terrific OU-certified cheeses out there from all over the world. Taste and explore different cheese flavors and styles, and incorporate them into recipes. Try serving up these starters at your next Chanukah party!

 

Spinach Feta Latkes
Photo: Baila Gluck

Spinach-Feta Latkes
Yields about 14 large or 22 mini-latkes

Enjoy these Greek-inspired latkes on Chanukah or any time of year!

1 pound (16 ounces) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
1 cup grated onion (about 1 small or ½ of a large onion)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
3 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried dill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried parsley
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper (about ½ teaspoon or more to taste)
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup packed crumbled feta cheese (about 8 ounces)
Canola oil, for frying

1. Combine spinach, onion, scallions, eggs, flour, dill, parsley, salt, pepper and nutmeg in medium bowl. Mix well. Fold in crumbled feta cheese. (Mixture can be prepared up to three hours ahead. Cover tightly and refrigerate. Stir to blend before continuing.)

2. Cover the bottom of a large nonstick skillet with oil, about 1/3 inch deep. Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, drop spinach mixture into skillet by the heaping tablespoonful. Fry until pancakes are golden brown and cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per side. Using a slotted spatula, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

3. Serve hot with sour cream or Chive Yogurt Sauce (see next recipe).

Naomi’s Note: Latkes can be kept warm uncovered in a 200°F oven, or re-heated uncovered for 15-20 minutes in a 350°F oven.

 

Chive Yogurt Sauce
½ cup plain Greek yogurt or labaneh
2½ tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

 

Stuffed Dates with Goat Cheese
Photo: Baila Gluck

Stuffed Dates with Goat Cheese
Yields 16 stuffed dates

A sweet hors d’oeuvre with tart goat cheese and a touch of honey. Be sure to use Medjool dates, whose caramel tones and substantial size are ideal for stuffing.

16 Medjool dates
4 ounces (about ½ cup packed) goat cheese
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon orange zest
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons honey, plus more for drizzling
8 pecans, halved (or sliced almonds)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Using a sharp paring knife, make a slit lengthwise in each date and remove pits. Set dates aside.

3. Combine goat cheese, cream cheese, orange zest, cinnamon and honey in a small bowl, mixing until well blended.

4. Stuff each date with about ¾ teaspoon of the cheese mixture. Top each with a pecan half (or a few sliced almonds). Place stuffed dates in a small baking dish. Bake for 5 minutes to warm. Drizzle each date with a few drops of honey prior to serving.

 

Fried Caprese Skewers with Balsamic Reduction
Yields 16 skewers

Aged provolone cheese—a smoky semi-hard Italian cheese—is a perfect choice for frying in this flavorful starter. Other semi-firm cheeses, such as mozzarella, can also be used in this recipe. Look for small skewers to serve on—fanned out on a serving platter, they make a beautiful presentation.

Balsamic Reduction
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar

Fried Caprese
8 ounces aged provolone cheese or firm mozzarella, cubed
1/3 cup flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup panko or coarse bread crumbs
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup canola oil
16 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch fresh basil leaves
16 short wooden or plastic skewers

1. Place vinegar and brown sugar in small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk to combine. Bring to a boil and cook until mixture is reduced by more than half, about 20 minutes; mixture should have a syrupy consistency. Remove from heat, allow to cool. Transfer to a container or squeeze bottle to store.

2. Next, place flour, beaten egg and panko/bread crumbs each in separate bowls for dredging. Season crumbs with black pepper. Dredge cheese cubes in flour, then egg, then crumbs. Place breaded cubes on waxed paper in the freezer for about 15 minutes to firm or until ready to fry. Slice the cherry tomatoes while waiting and set aside.

3. Heat the oil in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat until oil is hot and shimmering. Fry cheese cubes until golden brown, turning once, about 1 minute per side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain and cool slightly.

4. To assemble the skewers, carefully thread a tomato half (cut side up), a baby basil leaf (or medium leaf folded over), cheese cube, another basil leaf and finish with another tomato half (cut side down). Drizzle with balsamic reduction immediately before serving.

 

White Cheddar & Cremini Wontons
Yields 12 wontons

Robust flavors pack a cheesy punch in this crispy wonton starter. A good sharp white cheddar is enhanced by a touch of mustard and truffled cremini mushrooms.

1 teaspoon olive oil
2 ounces (about 5-6) cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon white truffle oil (optional, but worth it!)
12 frozen square wonton wrappers, defrosted
1½ tablespoons Dijon mustard, or more as needed
2-3 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, cut into ¾ inch cubes
Canola oil for frying

1. Heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Drizzle truffle oil over mushrooms; stir to coat and blend. Remove from heat; set aside to cool.

2. Meanwhile, lay out wonton wrappers on a cutting board or flat surface. Using a pastry brush (or the back of a spoon), brush the center of the wonton wrapper with a smear of mustard, leaving the perimeter plain. Place a cube of cheddar cheese in the center of each wonton. Top each cube of cheese with a slice of reserved mushrooms. Using a wet fingertip, moisten the perimeter of each wonton.

3. To seal each wonton, fold opposing corners upwards to meet each other over the filling, pressing and sealing between your thumb and forefinger. Repeat, matching and sealing the other corners, folding to fit and seal the edges. Place wontons on a parchment-lined baking sheet in the freezer for about 15 minutes to firm or until ready to fry.

4. Heat oil filled to a depth of 1-2 inches in a deep saucepan or pot over medium heat. If using a fry thermometer (recommended), heat oil to temperature of 350-360°F. Fry a few wontons at time until golden and crispy, turning once during cooking, about 1 minute per side. Use a slotted spoon to remove wontons, transferring to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Serve immediately and enjoy!

 

Naomi Ross is a cooking instructor and food writer and the Culinary Director at Apron Masters Kitchen in Woodmere, New York. She teaches classes throughout the tri-state area and writes articles connecting good cooking and Jewish inspiration. Follow her at @cookingconcepts on Instagram or visit her website at www.koshercookingconcepts.com.

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This article was featured in the Winter 2019 issue of Jewish Action.
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