Recipes: Celebrating Hanukkah

The celebration of Hanukkah is accompanied by foods which are rich in both tradition and flavor. The customary cuisine often involves foods that are fried in oil, symbolizing the miracle of the small supply of oil that kept the flame for the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem alight for eight days.

Sufganiyot are one of the most popular foods during Hanukkah. The classic recipe calls for these delicious doughnuts to be filled with jelly or custard and dusted with confectioner’s sugar while contemporary versions of the recipe call for chocolate or custard fillings. If the idea of frying your own sufganiyot at home seems a bit intimidating, follow this helpful 9-step lesson from the folks at epicurious. Even though sufganiyot are the doughy darlings of Hanukkah, alternatives such as zalabia, a deep fried batter served with sugar syrup, or apple cider doughnuts make for sweet substitutions.

Another fried favorite is the latke. While the traditional potato pancake recipe remains a mainstay, you may want to consider modern updates such as Sweet Potato Latkes or Carrot Scallion Latkes. The kosher / vegetarian blog Cafe Liz offers several takes on the classic dish, including sweet Pear Sage Latkes, spicy Mushroom Ginger Latkes and savory Zucchini Dill Latkes.

Cheese is another traditional menu item during Hanukkah. It is served to commemorate Judith, whose brave assassination of the Assyrian general Holofernes was the catalyst that aided the Jews in their defeat of the Assyrians.

When selecting a dessert, you simply can’t go wrong with a cheesecake! Instead of a New York style offering, consider a European-style cheesecake which features a delectable farmer-cheese filling.

A Hanukkah cheese dip is another guaranteed crowd pleaser. If you really want to wow your guests, try serving it in a handmade round challah bread bowl.

Cheddar gelt wafers are a tasteful homage to the traditional giving of Hanukkah gelt, which is typically chocolate money wrapped in gold foil. For those of you who prefer sweeter fare, prepare some chocolate dipped apricot gelt, which makes for a healthy & tasty alternative. Of course, if you simply must have chocolate, we suggest homemade chocolate truffle gelt as a truly memorable and decadent reward for your Hanukkah guests.

Hanukkah Traditions

Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, is an eight day celebration which starts on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. While Hanukkah is not the most significant of Jewish holidays, it is a time of meaningful traditions.

The Lighting of the Hanukkah Candles - The reason for the Hanukkah lights is to remind others of the holiday’s miracle – when the small quantity of oil kept alight the flame for the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem for eight days. Candles are placed in a candelabra, often referred to as a menorah, and lit ceremonially every evening for eight days. There is one candle for each night and a candle of differing height, called a shamash, which is used to light the others. The number of candles lit is increased by one each night.

The Saying of Blessings over the Candles - Depending upon the tradition, three blessings (Brachot) are recited either before or after the lighting of the Hanukkah candles on the first night. On the following nights, only two of the three are recited.

The Singing of the Ma’oz Tzur - After the lighting of the candles each night, the Hebrew song Ma’oz Tzur is sung. The song’s themes are that of salvation and praises to God for the Jews’ survival of persecution throughout history.

The Consumption of Fried Food & Cheeses -  To commemorate the miracle of the oil, foods that are fried in oil, such as latkes (potato pancakes) or sufganiyot (round jelly or custard-filled doughnuts) are eaten during Hanukkah.  Cheese is also served in honor of the bravery of Judith, who helped lead the Jews to triumph over the Assyrian troops by seducing and assassinating the Assyrian general, Holofernes.

The Playing of the Dreidel Game - A four-sided top called a dreidel, which features a single Hebrew letter (Nun, Gimel, Hey or Shin) imprinted upon each side is spun on Hanukkah. These letters are an acronym for “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” or “a great miracle happened there”, which refers to the miracle of the oil.  When playing, each player begins with a set amount of gelt (real or chocolate coins) and places one coin in the pot to start. The letters also represent the rules of the game. Depending on which side the dreidel falls upon, the player will either skip a turn (Nisht), take the whole pot (Gants), take half the pot (Halb) or put an additional coin in the pot (Shtel).