This just in: The Spanish Inquisition may have been on the lookout for telltale signs of the Festival of Lights, but they didn’t turn up much. Hanukah wasn’t a big deal in Spain. Hanukah wasn’t a big deal anywhere, really, until American Jews got overwhelmed by Christmas-driven consumerism and decided to put some muscle behind the menorah – which, when you come to think of it, already represents a lot of muscle, otherwise known as the Maccabees. No shrinking violets, they.
This year we’re having to compete with Thanksgiving! Oddly enough, last year I wrote about Sephardic food and Thanksgiving, after one Alan Moskowitz asked me whether I could re-create his Sephardic grandmother’s mysterious chopped liver “stuffing” recipe, which was really an Ashkenazi/Thanksgiving-inspired mina. Despite the funky name, the result is truly delicious and the story is fun. You should check them both out here, and consider putting a Thanksgiving mina on your holiday table, or your day-after-holiday table – especially if you’re ordinarily inclined to add liver to your stuffing, or giblets to your gravy.
But you really want donuts. No – you want fritters. Bimuelos, it’s bimuelos you want, soft, spongy fritters that puff up with air when you cook them, and are light as a feather. Donuts are cakelike, eggless, heavy, yeasty, ring shaped, and not nearly as much fun to make or eat as their lighter cousins, which look like this:
Nice, huh! I did it – today!
Yes, yes, the Spanish make a similar version called buñuelos de viento – “wind fritters” (um, doesn’t translate too well, does it), for the way they puff up with air – but they didn’t originate over here. Bimuelos are an ancient treat, a favorite of the Greeks, whose names for them – svingi, sfongadi, sfingou, et al. – mean sponge, or spongy. They’re big with Sephardim, too, but judging from the recipes I’ve tested, it’s a wonder.
If I’ve steered clear of bimuelos here it’s because in all this time – up until this morning, actually – I didn’t make them very well. That’s an understatement. I have read countless recipes, and tested what feels like a thousand of them, nauseating myself in the process. Three days of testing and I need three years for the trauma to wear off. Just because it’s “authentic” doesn’t guarantee it’s good.
These are good. These are the party food they’re supposed to be. They are quick and light and very easy to make, which is how it should be if you’re making fun food for a lightweight festival of lights. They’re versatile. You can add orange zest to the dough (superb), or a flavor to the syrup – if you choose to make a syrup. I like to roll them in sugar as they come out of the pot, and a touch of cinnamon blended into that is nice, too. You can fill them with orange marmalade, or chopped nuts blended with marmalade (fabulous – I just thought of that now) or douse them in sugar syrup mixed with a little honey. Or heck, do it all. These are traditional Sephardic flavors and foods, and for the sake of this column I’m a traditionalist. But now that I’ve gotten it right and passed it along to you for posterity, I will be going crazy sampling other treatments. You should, too. Cranberry-filled bimuelos, anyone?
Happy Hanukah – and Happy Thanksgiving!