TUESDAY EVENING, the first night of Hanukah, Sophie Nemirovsky, a recent emigrant from the Soviet Union, will make potato latke for the first time. She knows how to make chicken kiev and piroshki . But, as a Jew growing up in Moscow, she never learned how to make any Jewish dishes. In fact, until last year she had never heard of potato pancakes, the sine qua non of Hanukah for most American Jews of Russian origin.
One year ago, 29-year-old Nemirovsky, her husband Paul and 8-year-old son Dmitri emigrated from Moscow to Washington. Last year, for the first time in their lives, the Nemirovskys lit the menorah and celebrated Hanukah, the festival of lights, celebrating the Maccabean victory in 164 B.C.E.
Until then, the only place Sophie ever tasted anything resembling Jewish food was at her 81-year-old grandmother's apartment in Moscow. From her grandmother she heard stories about such Jewish things as kashrut , Jewish dietary laws; and around Passover, Sophie tasted Matzah ball soup and nibbled on the matzah which her grandmother ordered from the Grand Synagogue. Yet, she never celebrated a holiday. As far as Sophie was concerned Judaism was all distant folklore.
In fact, growing up in Moscow, Sophie never even thought about Jewish food. Her grandmother came from the Ukraine in 1920, one of the centers of Jewish life prior to the revolution. Had Sophie grown up there instead of the more assimilated Moscow perhaps she would have been more familiar with the gastronomic side of Judaism.
What we think of as Jewish food in this country, Sophie considered Russian. Sure, she knew and loved bagels; but they were always larger than ours and Russian, not Jewish. So was hallah, the twisted sweet bread traditional even in the United States for Friday evening. "I loved hallah in Russia, but only in Washington did I know it is important to me as a Jew," said Sophie recently in her White Oak apartment. Although she never thought about it in Moscow, Jews tended to eat chopped liver, calf's foot jelly and gefilte fish. "But all Russians loved gefilte fish and called it stuffed-fish, Jewish style. Russians wanted to eat at Jewish people's houses just to taste this dish."
Nemirovsky's son Dmitri knew he was Jewish because kids would "call me 'zhid' and laugh at me." It was not until the Nemirovskys came to Washington that positive feelings of being Jewish were reinforced.
"With this anti-semitism there was no future for our child and us as Jews in Russia," commented Sophie. "As Russian as we felt, we were considered just Jews."
The Nemirovskys are here to stay. One entire room of their small apartment is piled high with the still unpacked wordly possessions they were allowed to bring with them. Now they are trying to buy a house which they can finally call home.
Sophie is now working as a computer programmer. Her husband Paul is an economist. An ebullient, charming couple, the Nemirovskys have been well received in Washington.
When they arrived at Thanksgiving of last year for example, they were invoted to four dinners. Each menu was exactly the same -- turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. "An impossibility in Moscow! Had four families of four different financial levels even wanted to prepare the same meal they could not have. Unless you are close to the top of the Communist party, food items are just too scarce."
In Russia, where neither Hanukah nor Christmas is celebrated, according to Nemirovsky, the biggest holiday of the year is Nove God, or New Year's Eve, December 31st. Although Dmitri is a newcomer to Hanuhak lighting, he remembers staying up late for Nove God. "To invite someone for this holiday meant to prepare a real feast," not just cocktails, pizza or tea as in the United States. "It does not matter for what time the invitation is, you must have a big meal. Even if you eat only potatoes everyday you cook and cook and cook before this celebration. And after the party you eat leftovers for many days."
Preparations for Nove God begin with "big effots to find the products," Nemirovsky said. "if you are close to, let's say, Breshnev, you might be able to buy caviar. Otherwise, you'll eat herring.
"The first time I went to the Giant Supermarket it reminded me of an agricultural exhibition in Moscow which showed all the achievements of the Soviet people. The only difference was that in Moscow the items were papier mache and here the fruits and vegatables were all real." And anyone can buy them.
With all the delacacies available in this country, Sophie prefers even more the concept of Russian hospitality.
"It doesn't matter how many people you have invited; everyone will sit around the table. If it's 20 people you'll move away all the furniture, putting tables together to make any which shape. We like to see each other face to face. The only time you'll ever stand eating is at intermission in a theater."
Drinking is an obligatory accompaniment to an evening of socializing -- vodka, wine, Cognac, champagne, but mostly vodka with lots of toasts.
The desired first course and accompaniment to the vodka is the zakuski , a hot or cold vast hors d'oevre table rivaled only by the Swedish smorgasbord and the Middle Eastern mezza. If Sophie could find the foods in the "magazine" (store), she wuld include her favorites: salmon with lemon, sliced sturgeon, gefilte fish, salami, salat olivet , thin slices of tongue with mayonaise, marinated mushrooms, potatoes with wild mushrooms, eggplant salads, sliced cod liver with hard-boiled eggs and onions, red and black caviar, sardines, herring salad, ham, tomatoes stuffed with herring, and, of course, piroshki . "Here, try these piroshki , meat overturns," insisted Sophie as she pulled out a bag of meat turnovers from her freezer to boil and serve with sour cream. Returning to talk more of the zabuski table, Sophie insisted that "it is a shame to leave empty space on the table."
As if a filled zakushi table were not enough, Sophie described the main course -- stuffed goose or duck with prunes, apples and sour cream; chicken with garlic; or schnitzel. Pickles, marinated tomatoes, cabbages, and French fried potatoes would accompany this. Dessert would be still another table filled with bowls of fruit, chocolate, and lots of pastries.
As soon as Sophie finds a new house and unpacks her possessions she plans to entertain her new American friends Russian-style with some of the following recipes. For the time being, however, she will stick to the potato pancakes which her son likes so much this Hanukah and attend the two parties to which she and her family have already been invited. SALAT OLIVET (8 servings) 3 to 4 medium unpeeled potatoes 1 1/2 fresh cucumbers, peeled and diced 1 cup cooked beef or chicken, diced 2 to 3 pickles, diced 5 to 6 hard-boiled eggs, diced 1 1/2 cups cooked green peas 1 1/2 to 2 apples, peeled and diced 3 green onions, diced 1 small onion, diced 1 carrot, peeled and diced 1/4 cup diced celery, parsley or watercress Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 1 cup mayonnaise
Boil the potatoes, cool, peel, and dice.
Combine with all the remaining ingredients, adding more mayonnaise if necessary. PIROSKHI (Makes about 5 dozen) 1 tablespoons active dry yeast 3 teaspoons sugar 1/2 cup lukewarm milk 6 to 7 cups flour 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup water 1 large egg 1/4 pound butter or margarine, melted 1 egg yolk
Proof the yeast with 1 teaspoon of the sugar in the milk and allow to stand 10 minutes.
Sift 5 cups of the flour and salt into a large bowl; make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture. Mix well.
Combine the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar, water, egg and melted butter or margarine. Add to the flour mixture. Knead well and add additional flour to make the dough smooth and elastic. Cover with a towel and put in a warm place. Allow to rise from 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
When the dough is ready, pinch off egg-sized pieces. Flatten them and roll each piece to an oval shape about 1/4 inch wide. Put 1 tablespoon of filling along the center of the oval. Carefully close the edges; turn the roll over and plump it slightly so it is broader at the middle with tapering ends.
Let the piroshki rise for 15 minutes on a lightly greased and floured cookie sheet. Brush them with the egg yolk diluted in water.
Bake 15 minutes in a 400 degree oven, then lower heat to 375 and bake 20 minutes more or until golden. Cabbage Filling: 5 cups chopped cabbage 2 tablespoons salt 1 large chopped onion 4 tablespoons butter or margarine 1 tablespoon minced dill or parsley 2 hard-boiled eggs 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
Finely shred the cabbage.Then place in boiling water to cover with the two tablespoons salt and cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat and let stand in water for about 15 minutes; drain and squeeze out the water.
Saute the onion in the butter or margarine. Add the cabbage to the onion and braise about 30 minutes until cooked but not brown. Add the dill or parsley, the chopped eggs and caraway seeds.
Fill the piroshki with about 1 1/2 tablespoons filling. ROAST DUCK STUFFED WITH FRUIT 1 (4 to 5 pound) duckling Salt Sugar 4 to 5 tablespoons sour cream 2 to 3 whole apples, cored 5 to 6 prunes (optional)
Wash the duck well, rinse, and dry.
Combine some salt and sugar. Rub inside and out with salt and sugar, then with sour cream.
Stuff the duck with apples and prunes and sew up the cavity.
Place the duck, breast side down, in an open roasting pan. Roast at 350 degrees 50 minutes or until crispy. Turn over and roast breast up for another 40 minutes or so, until the duck is crisp all over and the drumstick moves freely in sockets.
Remove the fruits from the cavity. Quarter the duck and serve with the fruits. This is often served with fried potatoes, pickles and cucumbers and tomatoes.