Traditional Hanukkah, or Chanukah, recipes are a symbol of freedom and survival. The festival commemorates the revival of the Temple in 165 B.C. by the Maccabees (a Jewish rebel army) after its desecration by the Syrians. Probably the most famous aspect of this holiday is the eight days of lights, but there are also many food and cooking traditions tied to the holiday.
Even after the Syrians desecrated the Temple, a miracle took place: a small amount of oil, sufficient for just about a day, was somehow able to keep the flame alight for eight days in the holy place. This miracle is celebrated, symbolically, with the use of oil in cuisine.
Latkes and Hanukkah go hand-in-hand. Also known as potato pancakes, this traditional recipe is simple: grated potatoes, an egg, onion and seasonings. Once friend in oil, serve it with sour cream or applesauce.
Photo licensed via Creative Commons via Flickr member grongar
If you’re stuck on the word itself, here’s a little help: it’s pronounced “SOOF-gone-ee-OAT.” It’s a light, fried dough that’s then stuffed with jam or jelly and topped with a snowy coating of confectioners’ sugar.
When it comes to the main dish, the Hanukkah menu will often include brisket or chicken. Brisket is among the tougher cuts of beef, so a slow cooking method is best for breaking down the tendons in the meat and making it tender while also preserving flavor. Braising the meat in a broth and vegetable mixture are fantastic ways of preparing brisket.
As the story goes, following the attack on the Temple, a woman named Judith charmed her way into the enemy camp bearing gifts of wine and cheese. Once the leader had indulged to the point of passing out, Judith beheaded him. Without a leader, the camp disbanded. Eating dairy products is a way of commemorating this brave woman’s part on the Maccabee victory.
It’s customary to eat cheese, blintzes or cheesecakes as part of a Hanukkah meal.
This egg-rich bread is like the golden crown on a Hanukkah feast. Traditionally, the bread is braided before it’s baked, giving it an impressive finished appearance once it rises and bakes to a warm, golden hue.
In the food world, gelt is a type of chocolate candy shaped like a coin and covered in metallic foil to bring the resemblance home. It’s a traditional Hanukkah gift and is often used by children when they play with the dreidel.
Gelt isn’t the only sweet served at Hanukkah. Traditional Jewish cookie recipes, such as rugelach, will often make an appearance at the table. It’s also not unusual to see sugar cookies in the shapes of Hanukkah imagery such as dreidels or menorahs.