Thursday, December 29, 2016

Hanukkah Video: Zoulbia

Back in 2008, miffed that there wasn't a strong Iranian Jewish culinary tradition for Hanukkah, and knowing that throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean, Jews eat various fried sweets to celebrate the oil-related miracle that Hanukkah commemorates (the same thread latkes weave through Eastern Europe), I started my own tradition: I proclaimed zoulbia, a crisp lacy fritter that bursts with rosewater cardamom syrup when you bite into it, to be the traditional Iranian Hanukkah food.

It took off. The Mashup Americans bought into my fledgling tradition, and Kveller picked it up from there.

So, when Eileen Levinson of Custom and Craft approached me to do a Persian Hanukkah cooking video, I knew just the recipe.  Last week, Eileen, her cameraman, and lots of fancy equipment alit on my kitchen, and we cooked, staged, shot, and noshed together. I'm really excited about the end result.

Recipe and Behind the Scenes shots after the jump.


This is a yeast-based batter, so allow time for it to rise. If you are working with children, take great care in the frying step, as the hot oil may spatter. You can buy plastic squeeze bottles from restaurant supply stores, or even from stores like Target, but in a pinch, an empty plastic shampoo, dish soap, or ketchup bottle with a narrow opening, thoroughly cleaned, works fine. Leave out the yogurt for a non-dairy version of this dessert.

The batter is very tangy – from the combination of yogurt and baking powder, the latter of which also imparts a distinct saltiness. All of this balances the sweetness of the syrup. 

1 cup flour
1 cup water
1 Tbs baking powder
2 Tbs yogurt (optional)
1 package active dry yeast

1 cup water
2 cup sugar
1 Tbs honey
dash cardamom
1/4 C rosewater

Grapeseed or other flavorless oil to fry

Mix together batter ingredients. Let sit for 1 hour. 

To make syrup, combine first four ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in rosewater.

Fill squeeze bottle with batter.

Fill a large pan with a 1-inch layer of oil. Heat over medium-high heat until a drop of water dropped into the oil sizzles. Squeeze out batter into hot oil, creating spirals and free-form designs, but maintaining a generally circular shape. The end result should be lacy and not too heavy, so try to squeeze out enough batter to maintain the zoulbia's structure, but not too much to make a solid mass. Fry for a few minutes, flipping or submerging to fry both sides, until deep golden brown. Using tongs or two forks, carefully remove zoulbia from pan and shake off excess oil. Lower gently into syrup, quickly submerge and remove. Continue making zoulbia with remaining batter, adding oil as necessary. Cool on a rack in a single layer.


  1. Absolutely fantastic job you have done here.This is so nice.Thanks for sharing.

  2. I'm looking forward to trying this! It looks delicious!!

  3. My daughter is allergic to roses and is often bothered by rose water. Is there an alternative?

    1. Orange blossom water isn't traditional, but it might work. You could add in a bit of saffron for beautiful aroma as well as color. Or just leave it out and let the cardamom and honey flavors take center stage.