Fluffy feta cheese pancakes – a rediscovered Chanukah treat

Light and fluffy, cheese pancakes with ricotta and feta are deliciously savoury.
Perfect for Chanukah or as a tasty brunch treat at any time!

Do you associate dairy foods with Chanukah? No, me neither, or at least, not until recently. Turns out that delicious cheesy treats pre-date potato latkes and doughnuts by quite some time.

Oil and cheese

It’s easy to see where the Chanukah fried-food obsession comes from – miracle of the oil and all that. But the dairy food tradition is from a less well known source. Read on to find out more!

Cheese pancakes conveniently are both fried, and dairy, thus filling both traditional food roles in one delicious morsel. 

Feta cheese pancakes - Light and fluffy cheese pancakes made with ricotta and feta are deliciously savoury. Perfect for Chanukah or as a tasty brunch treat at any time!

Dairy origins

You’re probably wondering where the Chanukah dairy connection comes from. Yehudit was a fierce Jewish heroine who played a critical role in the defeat of the armies attacking Temple-era Judea, and cheese is pivotal to her story. I think it is incumbent upon all of us to put her back front and centre, especially since it provides an excuse to eat delicious cheese pancakes. Judah Maccabee has had his time in the spotlight, it’s Yehudit’s time to shine!

The story of Yehudit

Yehudit was a cunning and beautiful widow from the town of Bethulia, which had been besieged by an invading army led by General Holofernes. As the besieged townsfolk began to starve, Yehudit concocted a cunning plan. She charmed Holofernes and plied him with some delicious salty cheese. Naturally this made him thirsty, so she seductively encouraged him to quench his thirst with strong wine. When he fell into a drunken stupor, she cut off his head and slipped away. 

I imagine the scene looked nothing like this drawing by Maerten van Heemskerck from 1560.

Judith by Maerten van Heemskerck

Ahem. Next morning, upon discovering their leader’s headless body, the attacking troops fled in panic and the town was SAVED

Just focus on the cheese

I can’t condone chopping people’s heads off, but let’s just concentrate on the part about delicious cheese, right?

Feta cheese pancakes - Light and fluffy cheese pancakes made with ricotta and feta are deliciously savoury. Perfect for Chanukah or as a tasty brunch treat at any time!

According to Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, cheesy Chanukah treats like ricotta pancakes were first brought to Italy by Sicilians fleeing expulsion in 1492, and then spread across Europe and the wider Jewish world.

Time passed, and while cheese pancakes remained popular in Southern Europe, Jewish residents of the North found that soft cheeses were hard to come by in the winter. Furthermore, the main fat they had available for frying was schmaltz – chicken fat – which meant that cheese pancakes were a non-starter for Northern-Europe-dwelling kosher-keeping Chanukah celebrants. Other pancakes, made from rye or buckwheat batter, became acceptable substitutes.

Spuddy good

And then, enter the humble potato – the perfect dairy-free crispy pancake ingredient. By the late 18th century Chanukah cheese pancakes were on their way out altogether, and by the mid-19th century they had been all but replaced by the more familiar potato latke. Delicious, but a totally different beast to a light, fluffy, cheesy cloud of crispy pancake deliciousness.

Feta cheese pancakes - Light and fluffy cheese pancakes made with ricotta and feta are deliciously savoury. Perfect for Chanukah or as a tasty brunch treat at any time!

Time to rediscover this traditional treat!

While the traditional cheese pancakes used only ricotta or a similar soft cheese, I decided to pay homage to Yehudit’s thirst-inducing morsels, and enhance the salty cheesiness by also adding some crumbled feta to the pancake mixture. It’s a fabulous addition! The cheese pancakes were light, soft and deliciously savoury.

I served them with some sweet chilli dipping sauce which created a wonderful salty-sweet-spicy sensation. If you’re not into chilli then something sweet would still be wonderful. Maybe a drizzle of maple syrup or honey, or a few fresh berries?

feta cheese pancakes - Light and fluffy cheese pancakes made with ricotta and feta are deliciously savoury. Perfect for Chanukah or as a tasty brunch treat at any time!

Cheese pancakes

These wonderful cheese pancakes would make a terrific brunch dish at any time of year. Just be sure to make plenty of them. I thought I’d eat one, or maybe two, and then accidentally noshed five of them… They are certainly moreish!

We’ll be enjoying these as a delicious Chanukah supper, and maybe even raising a toast to feisty Jewish heroine Yehudit as we do. Chanukah sameach to one and all! 

Light and fluffy cheese pancakes made with ricotta and feta are deliciously savoury. Perfect for Chanukah or as a tasty brunch treat at any time!

feta cheese pancakes

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feta cheese pancakes
5 from 4 votes
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Feta cheese pancakes

Crispy, fluffy-centred, delicious ricotta and feta cheese pancakes. Perfect for Chanukah, or at any time of year!

Course Breakfast, Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine European, jewish
Keyword cheese pancake, pancake
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 10 pancakes
Author Helen

Ingredients

  • 250 g ricotta cheese (1 cup)
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 50 g flour (1/3 cup)
  • 100 g crumbled feta cheese (2/3 cup)
  • olive oil for frying

Instructions

  1. Mix together the ricotta, egg yolks, flour and feta cheese.

  2. Whisk the egg whites to glossy peaks, then fold into the cheese mixture.

  3. Pour the olive oil into a heavy based frying pan (I used cast iron) to a depth of 3-4mm, and heat over a medium flame. Dollop 2 tbsp of the pancake mixture into the pan to make a circle approximately 7-8cm in diameter. Repeat with the remaining mixture to make more pancakes but don't overcrowd the pan.

  4. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then flip and fry for a further 1-2 minutes. The pancakes should be crispy and golden brown.

  5. Drain for a few minutes on absorbent paper before serving.

12 Comments:

  1. I have a hard time finding cheeses that are marked kosher. They say enzymes are used and I don’t know if it’s a pork enzyme…so is all ricotta and feta cheeses kosher?

    • Hi Cathy. I don’t know where you are located so it’s hard to offer good advice I’m afraid. Both feta and ricotta cheeses are produced using rennet, which is an enzyme that causes the milk to separate into curds and whey. Rennet can be produced from cows or it can be made artificially using cultured bacteria. If the latter, the cheese is likely to be labelled as vegetarian – at least in the UK, anyway. Depending on how strict you are about kashrut you may be happy eating this vegetarian cheese, which is made without animal products. Alternatively, I believe it is possible to make ricotta cheese at home. If you google you can find tutorials on how to do this – I’ve never tried it! You would still need to find feta though, or else leave it out. Sorry I can’t be more help! Thanks again and best regards, Helen.

  2. I’ve never come across cheesy pancakes with feta before but they sound so good I’ll definitely be making this next time we have brunch! The history of Chanukah and dairy foods and the pancakes was also really interesting to read.

  3. This is so interesting Helen. I know very little about Chanukah and food traditions. But what I do know is i love feta and ricotta so these sound delicious!

    • Thanks Ceri. To be fair the Judith story is not very well known by anyone! I only came across it myself relatively recently. But as you say, the pancakes are delicious! Any excuse, eh?!

  4. What an interesting recipe, I would never have thought of using feta in pancakes. I can imagine how tasty they must be.

  5. I love cheesy recipe and these sound amazing! So cheesy and so delicious!

  6. These sound wonderful, Helen, and great to have our heroine with us again. I don’t like feta cheese, haven’t tried ricotta; can I just use curd/cream cheese..I’ve gotta make these!

    • Thanks Bessie! You can skip the feta, although they won’t have quite the same flavour. If you don’t have ricotta the closest thing is probably sieved cottage cheese. I hope you enjoy them 🙂

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