Everything you need to know about Chanukah food – what, why, and how! – plus over 50 delicious recipes for fabulous festive treats.
What is Chanukah?
Chanukah is a relatively minor festival in the Jewish calendar. It falls usually in November or December and provides an opportunity for some mid-winter festivities. It is celebrated by the lighting of candles, giving gifts and ‘Chanukah gelt’, and playing with spinning tops called dreidels. And of course by eating delicious traditional foods!
What are we actually celebrating?
The festival celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greek army who had conquered Jerusalem and defiled the holy temple. Having driven out the Hellenic forces, the Maccabees prepared to relight the Temple menorah (the 7 branched lamp) but found there was only enough oil to burn for one day. They knew that it would take 8 days to prepare more oil, but lit the lamp anyway. A miracle occurred and the small amount of oil continued to burn until the new oil was ready.
Hence we celebrate for 8 days – and nights! – by lighting candles or oil lamps. We light one on the first night, two on the second, three on the third and so on until all eight are lit on the final night of the festival.
All about the oil
Since olive oil is central to the Chanukah miracle, oil is very important in the preparation of festive foods. Fried foods feature heavily, including:
- latkes (Ashkenazi potato pancakes)
- keftes de prassa (Sephardic leek fritters)
- sufganiyot (Israeli jam-filled doughnuts)
- bimuelos (Sephardic doughnuts with honey)
- zengoula (Iraqi funnel cakes)
There are dozens of regional variations on Chanukah fried foods, and even differences in how such foods are served. Latkes for instance, are served with applesauce and soured cream in the USA. Here in the UK by contrast, they’re more likely to be a savoury side dish served with salt beef and a pickled cucumber.
Even the classic jam doughnut has been made-over in recent years. Chanukah doughnuts – sufganiyot – now come in every flavour imaginable, with beautiful decorations and fabulous fillings.
Delicious cheesy treats
There is also a tradition to eat cheese and dairy foods on Chanukah. This is to commemorate the story of Yehudit, a cunning and beautiful widow from the town of Bethulia, which had been besieged by an invading Greek army led by General Holofernes. As the townsfolk began to starve, Yehudit conceived of a cunning plan. Using her feminine wiles, she charmed Holofernes and plied him with delicious salty cheese. When he then became thirsty, she encouraged him drink plenty of strong wine. He subsequently fell into a drunken stupor, at which point she cut off his head and slipped away. Discovering their leader’s headless body next morning, the attacking troops fled in panic. Hooray for Yehudit!
Italian Jews have been eating ricotta pancakes on Chanukah since as far back as the 15th Century. These fluffy feta pancakes are similar and have a salty bite, in honour of Yehudit’s delicious cheese!
We also like to serve a cheeseboard at our Chanukah parties, and maybe even make a few cheese dreidels. They’re very simple – just hard cheese and pretzel sticks! Use a waxy textured cheese and make a hole with a skewer or toothpick before inserting the pretzel ‘handle’.
Chocolate Chanukah Gelt
‘Gelt’ is the Yiddish word for gold or money and simply refers to the coins given to children as gifts as part of the holiday celebrations. While my parents’ generation remember receiving actual money on Chanukah, today most people give gifts instead, and the gelt has been replaced by chocolate coins. These chocolate treats can be incorporated into numerous Chanukah recipes and are also perfect tokens for playing high stakes dreidel!
Wherever Jewish people go, they adopt and adapt local foods to suit their dietary restrictions and festive occasions. It should be no surprise then that here in the UK, festive treats like mince pies are widely available at kosher bakeries in November and December! In her iconic book The New Complete International Jewish Cookbook, Evelyn Rose includes recipe for a ‘Chanukah pudding’ which she describes as a “rich, fruited, steamed ‘plum’ pudding” – sounds like a rebranded Christmas pudding to me!
Meanwhile in the USA, Chanukah sugar cookies with blue and white icing or sprinkles are a popular treat. The last few years have also seen the appearance of the “Hanukkah House” – a gingerbread house decorated with sugary menorahs, magen davids and dreidels. And if you just can’t get enough sugar, how about a marshmallow dreidel?
Let’s get cooking!
So many delicious Chanukah food ideas, and only 8 nights to make and eat them all! Time to get busy.
Latke, fritter and pancake recipes
Baked latkes, from Renana’s Kitchen.
Crispy potato latkes, from What a Girl Eats.
Curried cauliflower and carrot fritters, from Family Friends Food.
Curried sweet potato latkes with cilantro mint chutney, from Blossom to Stem.
Gluten free potato latkes, from Fearless Dining.
Grandma’s potato latkes, from Foodie Goes Healthy.
Leek and sweet potato latkes with cumin-garlic yogurt sauce, from Babaganosh.
No potato vegetable latkes, from Kosher by Gloria.
Oven-fried potato latkes, from Family Friends Food.
Potato and carrot latkes, from Belly Full.
Potato pancakes with onion-apple compote (gluten-free), from Cooking on the Weekends.
Quick carrot fritters – vegan and gluten-free, from Sneaky Veg.
Spiced courgette fritters, from Tin and Thyme.
Sweetcorn and carrot fritters, from Family Friends Food.
Vegan latkes with quick homemade applesauce, from Glue and Glitter.
Doughnuts and fried cakes recipes
Apple fritters, from Kosher on a Budget.
Baked vegan cinnamon doughnuts, from Cadry’s kitchen.
Buñuelos (or bimuelos) with honey – Sephardic Hanukkah donuts, from Kosher Cowboy.
Fried kichels, from Ronnie Fein.
Hanukkah Fritters (Frittelle di Hanukkah) with Figs and Sambuca Honey, from Meatballs and Matzah Balls.
Sfenj. Moroccan doughnuts, from Levana Cooks.
Sourdough doughnuts with cinnamon sugar, from Baking Sense.
Spiced apple cider doughnuts (French Crullers), from Cinnamon and Coriander.
Sufganiyot made easy, from Everyday Jewish Mom.
Zengoula with lemon syrup (Iraqi funnel cakes), from Jewish Food Experience.
Recipes using cheese
Baked goat cheese with honey sauce and cranberries, from Ronnie Fein.
Cheese latkes, from Caroline’s Cooking.
Cheese latkas, from Levana Cooks.
Fluffy feta cheese pancakes, from Family Friends Food.
Hanukkah desserts from India: Ras Malai and Gulab Jamun, from Sephardic Table.
Saganaki (fried cheese), from Kosher by Gloria.
Smoked gouda risotto balls, from Jewish Food Experience.
Syrniki – Russian cheese pancakes, from Babaganosh.
Chanukah gelt recipes
Chanukah gelt hot chocolate, from Family Friends Food.
Chanuka gelt cake, from Kitchen Tested.
Chanukah gelt piñata cake, from Kosher.com.
Crispy Chanukah chocolate bark, from Family Friends Food.
Homemade dark chocolate coins, from Feed Them Wisely.
Peanut butter Chanukah gelt cookies, from Lil Miss Cakes.
Chanukah cookies and baked goods
Dreidel shaped chocolate espresso spritz cookies, from The Monday Box.
Gingerbread Chanukah Gelt cookies, from Family Friends Food.
Gluten-free Chanukah cookies, from Kosher.com.
Hanukkah jelly cookies, from Living Sweet Moments.
Jam doughnut pull-apart challah, from Family Friends Food.
Lemon stars, from The Monday Box.
Mini dreidel Chanukah cookies, from Perspective Portions.
Slice and bake menorah Chanukah cookies, from Perspective Portions.
Very chocolate Chanukah gelt cookies, from The Monday Box.
Other Chanukah food recipes
Chanukah mince pies with last-minute kiddush wine mincemeat, from Family Friends Food.
Caramel dreidels and marshmallow dreidels, both from Bible Belt Balabusta.
Edible fruit and vegetable menorah, from Perspective Portions.
Hanukkah peppermint bark, from Plantains and Challah.
Hot mulled apple juice with little apple dreidels, from Family Friends Food.
Menorah waffles – an easy Chanukah breakfast, from Family Friends Food.
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Wishing you a very happy and delicious Chanukah!