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.
So where does the Chanukah dairy connection come 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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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!
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Feta cheese pancakes
- 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
- Mix together the ricotta, egg yolks, flour and feta cheese.
- Whisk the egg whites to glossy peaks, then fold into the cheese mixture.
- 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.
- Cook for 2-3 minutes, then flip and fry for a further 1-2 minutes. The pancakes should be crispy and golden brown.
- Drain for a few minutes on absorbent paper before serving.