The diversity found in St. Louis neighborhoods brings a variety of holiday traditions to the table. Here, area families share recipes, music and festivities that have been preserved through the generations.
The Dean Family
Every Hanukkah, the Dean house is filled with light. That’s because each member of the family has their own special menorah. “The kids always want to light the candles, so they each have their own,” says their mother, Shelley Dean.
And each menorah has a story to tell. “Some the kids made, one is from our wedding, and my husband and I each had one from before we were married. One has the synagogues in Israel and another is a colorful rainbow,” Dean says. The family also makes a new one each year from chocolate bars, peanut butter and candles. “It keeps burning all night because of the oil from the peanut butter,” she explains.
The family’s holiday traditions continue with a ‘decorating extravaganza’ of Jewish and Hanukkah symbols, and traditional music and foods, including latkes and Chanukah cookies. “We’re a very big musical family, so we sing songs after lighting the menorahs, and of course there are many Hanukkah parties,” Dean says. The family also leads the Rhythm 'N' Ruach program, which brings Jewish music into the community, from schools and libraries to retirement homes.
Recipe: Chanukah Cookies
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 c butter
1/2 c white sugar
2 egg yolks
1 t orange juice
1 t vanilla extract
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer in a large bowl until smooth. Beat in one egg yolk until completely incorporated. Beat in the other egg yolk along with the orange juice and vanilla. Mix in the flour mixture until just incorporated. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thickness. (Refrigerate dough for 60 minutes if it is too soft to work with.) Cut into desired Hanukkah shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies on prepared baking sheet. Bake until the edges are golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for one minute before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Frost with blue and white frosting and add sprinkles, if desired.
The Gazall Family
Trish Gazall’s Lebanese grandparents came to the United States in search of the American dream. They quickly found it, but never forgot their roots.
The couple passed down traditional Lebanese recipes to their children, who are now teaching their kids how to make the dishes. “My grandma would make the dishes and my mom would have to watch and write everything down because my grandmother never measured anything,” Gazall says with a laugh.
With the recipes thankfully preserved, the morning host at KEZK Radio and her family gather around a table filled with signature Lebanese fare, including grape leaves, chicken and hashweh—similar to a dressing, made of rice, celery, onions, pine nuts and ground beef—and fattoosh, a bread salad with cucumber, onion, tomatoes and dried mint leaves. And the meal wouldn’t be complete without kibbi, a meat dish served at almost every holiday gathering.
The meal is similar to the Lebanese lunch served weekly at Saint Raymond’s Maronite Cathedral, where Gazall and some of her family members regularly help prepare food—and where her grandparents wed almost a century ago.
Recipe: Baked Kibbi
1 lb. ground round
1 onion, diced
1/2 c pine nuts, browned
Salt and pepper to taste
Directions: Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl. Set aside.
For Main Mixture
4 lbs. ground round
3 lbs. bulgar wheat #2, washed
1 green pepper
1/4 c Lebanese spice (2 T pepper and 2 T cumin, mixed)
1/3 c peppermint leaf, crushed
1/4 c salt
Directions: Mix onion and green pepper in a blender to a liquid consistency. Combine mixture with raw kibbi ingredients in a mixing bowl. Layer filling and raw kibbi into a 9 by 13-inch pan by smoothing half of the raw kibbi on the bottom, putting the filling on top, then adding the remaining raw kibbi. Smooth evenly with a spatula. Spread a teaspoon of oil on top of the dish. Cut into diamond-shaped pieces. Bake at 400 degrees for an hour, or until the dish is brown and crispy.
The Winfield Family
The aromas of traditional holiday recipes fill the Winfield home every Christmas Eve courtesy of Mark Winfield (co-owner of The Precinct Bar & Grill along with former Cardinals player Jim Edmonds) and the restaurant’s chef, Andrew Shrensker. “He and I pop a couple bottles of wine and we start cooking all day for the whole family.”
By the time the group of 30 returns from Ste. Genevieve du Bois Parish evening services, the feast is ready for enjoyment. Since the chef is Jewish and the Winfield family is Christian, there is a mix of classic holiday food, from turkey, ham, deviled eggs and mashed potatoes to chicken spiedini. “My wife’s Italian grandma is 97 and she used to cook it every year,” Winfield says. “We’ve picked up on that tradition, and she’s come over in the past and put her two cents in on how it turns out.”
The Winfield family and Edmonds also know how important it is to give back each holiday season: for the last seven years, they have held buffet dinners and gift-giving to benefit kids through various nonprofits. And the Winfields are passing the tradition down to their young daughters. “They are more excited to give the gift than to receive it,” Winfield says. “So, the message is getting across.”
Recipe: Beef Spiedini
4 oz. yellow onion, finely diced
.5 oz. garlic, finely chopped
2 T Italian seasoning
24 oz. drained plum tomato, peeled, seeded, rough chopped
1 oz. olive oil
1/3 c shredded Parmesan cheese
Salt and black pepper to taste
Directions: In a pan on medium heat, add olive oil, yellow onion and garlic, sweat until the onions are translucent. Add Italian seasoning and sweat for an additional 30 seconds. Next, add tomatoes, fold into the mixture already in the pan; and on low heat, cook the mixture as dry as possible. Turn off heat. Fold in Parmesan cheese, add salt and pepper to taste. Remove mixture and spread thinly on a sheet pan and place in the refrigerator to cool.
2 lbs. beef cutlets, pound very thin
2 c Italian bread crumbs
8 oz. olive oil
Salt and black pepper
Directions: Lightly brush both sides of a cutlet with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper as desired. Dredge the cutlet in bread crumbs. Lay the breaded cutlet flat. Start a 1/2-inch from the long edge and spread a thin layer of filling across the breaded cutlet. Turn the cutlet around and roll up the cutlet as tightly as possible, ending with 1/2-inch of uncovered meat on the outside. Using a toothpick, every inch and half, push the pick through the outside lip all the way through to keep the roulade closed. Slice halfway between each toothpick so you have manageable pieces to cook. Repeat until all the meat is used. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a sauté pan on medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add six to eight pieces of spiedini to hot pan cut side down. Brown for 2 minutes and flip. Cook an additional 2 minutes. Place on a sheet pan. Once all the spiedinis are cooked, place in the oven for 6 minutes, remove from oven and serve.
The Salinas Family
The Salinas family has a lot to be thankful for—and they make sure they give gratitude back each holiday season through their Mexican traditions and recipes.
Shortly before the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, the family lines a plate with 12 grapes—each symbolizing a month of the coming year—and make a wish as they eat them. “We cheer and hug as we think about how thankful we are for the things we will receive the next year,” says America Salinas.
As another symbol of good luck for the new year, the Salinas’ fill a special wine glass with layers of rice, beans and dried corn, and top it with 12 coins—representing work, health and prosperity for the coming months. “I also make this decoration to give to hostesses at holiday parties,” Salinas notes.
And holiday meals at the Salinas’ feature the traditional ham, served with a special orange marmalade glaze. “It has been passed down through my family for years,” Salinas says, “and now I am passing it down to my kids and friends.”
Recipe: Orange Marmalade Glaze
1 whole ham
1 (10 oz.) orange marmalade
1/2 c ketchup
1/2 c sugar
1 pineapple, sliced
1/2 c cherries
Directions: Combine orange marmalade, ketchup and sugar in a mixing bowl to make a glaze. The night before the ham will be served, spoon glaze over the ham to marinade. The following day, bake the ham at 325 degrees for about two hours, until brown. Top the ham with pineapples and cherries, then bake it for several more minutes, until fruit is toasted.