MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
As Hanukkah continues tomorrow night, it will run smack dab into Thanksgiving. It's a rare event. The last time they overlapped was in the 1800s. And as if cooking a 15 or 20 pound turkey isn't enough, many families will be trying to add traditional Hanukkah foods to the table. So we thought we'd get some advice on how to do this without making your tummy hurt. So we've called in an expert, Joan Nathan. An author of many award-winning cookbooks and one of this country's foremost authorities on Jewish cooking. Welcome back, thanks so much for joining us once again.
JOAN NATHAN: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: So why are we getting this mash-up this year?
NATHAN: Well, because the Jewish calendar, which is a lunar calendar, has an extra month so it gets earlier.
NATHAN: And what's beautiful about it is Hanukkah will be its own holiday. It doesn't have to compete with Christmas. And it's a holiday of lights so Thanksgiving is one of the darkest times of year. I mean, darkest time really is at Christmas time. But it's beginning to be dark, and so you need light. And that's really - Hanukkah is a celebration of light.
MARTIN: So it's a festival of light, and that's why - the menorah. But that's also why traditionally, foods that are cooked in oil are associated with the holiday.
NATHAN: Well, that came - I think that came later.
MARTIN: Well, we're happy about that, but still. So there are certain signature foods that people associate with Hanukkah...
MARTIN: ...Jelly donuts being my personal favorite, but...
NATHAN: And that's new.
MARTIN: But we're happy about it. But latke, which are - what, traditionally grated potatoes? And you're saying a way to Thanksgiving it up would be, what?
NATHAN: Well, what I'm doing - tonight is my daughter's birthday - so it's first night of Hanukkah. So I'm going to have Swiss chard pancakes and a little bit of applesauce to go with them. But I'm also going to make cookies instead of her birthday cake because she loves ginger cookies. And I'm going to make - people could do this tomorrow if they wanted to - with a menorah and with turkeys. So people could have their choice.
MARTIN: You've also brought along some sweet potato latke, which is a twist on using the white potatoes, and I think people associate with that. Tell us about that and how do you make it?
NATHAN: Oh well, you just grate the sweet potatoes and you grate the - I use celery root and you grate an apple. And you put them together with a little bit of egg and a little bit of flour or matzo meal or breadcrumbs, and then you just put them together and you fry them.
NATHAN: And salt and pepper of course.
MARTIN: This is just purely for research, but this is so good.
NATHAN: Well, you know, I thought that, you know, you have to have sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving. So if you really wanted to have something else other than the sweet potato casserole that I will have tomorrow because my 100-year-old mother is making it as she always does. And it's a typical casserole with sweet potatoes, pineapples and, of course, marshmallows on top. And everybody likes that, and I would never tamper with that tradition.
MARTIN: Is there any pumpkin thing that you could come up with that would be great?
NATHAN: Well, oh yeah, delicious pumpkin and curry is really good. But you have to get a pumpkin that really tastes good. And I think butternut squash is a wonderful - makes a great latke. And so what I'm going to do - and I know that other people are doing similar things - for my hors d'oeuvre on Thanksgivukkah, I'm going to be having tiny potato latkes with some applesauce and a cranberry on top.
MARTIN: You're amazing at entertaining and you think about recipes all the time, but do you feel that a lot of home cooks are feeling some pressure this time of year? Because all of these holidays are so freighted for a lot of us. It's family time and people, you know, often they want what they want and they don't want anything else but what they're used to having.
NATHAN: Well, you - I think that you can always inject one new thing - would be a vegetable or an hors d'oeuvre. That's - you're allowed to do that. You know, you can always add - I don't know, a pie or some - or I know we tried the deep-fried turkey once. I just didn't like it. So we're not doing that again.
MARTIN: But it would be kind of in keeping with Thanksgivukkah wouldn't it?
NATHAN: Yeah, that's right. But it wouldn't be olive oil. That's the thing. It's got to be olive oil. But the other thing, it doesn't necessarily have to be frying. So I'm going to have for my salad, kale salad, which you could do kale latkes, too. But kale salad with olive oil and garlic and pomegranates and grapefruit and avocado. And that's going to be nice. Don't you think?
MARTIN: Can I come over your house? I'm just kidding.
NATHAN: I wish you'd come.
MARTIN: Do you have any advice for people who just get so stressed out about these big family meals? I mean, every year, you know, you just hear people calling the turkey hotline in tears, especially if they're facing both together and all of that.
NATHAN: See I have lists. I mean, it's so important. And with lists, you think about what you have to buy. The other thing is make it easy on yourself. Speak your guests and see what they can bring. Or a lot of people have family weekends with Thanksgiving the way I'm going to have it. And I've assigned a different meal. And it's a little - for them it's a little bit - they're a little afraid because I'm a cookbook writer. But I'm so happy that they're going to be taking some of the difficulty from me.
MARTIN: So calm down, basically, is what you're saying.
NATHAN: Yeah, take a deep breath. That's the best advice of all. Take a deep breath. It's fun. I always tell people the most important thing about Thanksgiving or Thanksgivukkah - it's traditions. And that's what brings people together. You're right, people want to see those same tired recipes, maybe a little bit spruced up. But that's what makes your family different from my family. And I believe that with all the change that we do - going to the hottest restaurants, going different places around the world - when you come home, you want the same thing, and I think it's really important to have that on your Thanksgiving table or your Thanksgivukkah table.
MARTIN: Joan Nathan is the author of 10 cookbooks. She's one of this country's foremost authorities on Jewish cooking. She was kind enough to stop by on a very busy day, our Washington D.C. studios. Thank you. Happy Thanksgivukkah to you, too. To get Joan Nathan's recipe for sweet potato latke, just go to NPR .org, click on the programs tab and then on TELL ME MORE.
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