Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, lasts eight days and celebrates the miraculous way a small amount of oil, enough for one night, lasted for eight until more could be found. Unlike Christmas, Thanksgiving or Passover, there isn't one major feast or dinner. It is more about children and family now than it is about food. For this reason, Hanukkah foods tend to be more snack items and sweets rather than a complete dinner.
Because of the oil that is central to the celebration, a lot of the traditional foods for Hanukkah are fried. Many of the dishes are also made with cheese, in honor of the heroic widow Judith, who lulled an Assyrian general to sleep with wine and cheese before killing him to save her people.
- Latkes are very important Hanukkah food! For more detailed directions, go to How To Make Latkes. They were originally small cheesecakes, in honor of Judith, but have long since evolved into the potato and onion version common now.
- Children traditionally play a game with a dreidel during Hanukkah. For them, one of the most important food items is simple chocolate coins (the kind sold wrapped in gold foil inside mesh bags), which are called gelt and used as a sort of currency during the game. Check out How To Play Dreidel and have plenty of chocolate coins on hand!
- Borrowing from Christmas tradition, it has become popular to bake sugar cookies in the shapes of menorahs, the Star of David and the dreidel for Hanukkah. Many kitchen and specialty shops sell cookie cutters in these shapes. Check out OyToys for sets, as well as other toys for Hanukkah.
- Doughnuts, flavored with orange and dipped in honey or sugar, are popular in some parts of the world for Hanukkah. Called Soofganiyot, the recipes for these are too long and complex to enter here. Check out Kosher Cooking for one, and Got Torah's Kosher Food Corner for another. Loukomades come from Greek traditions and are another sweet pastry similar in character to soofganiyot. Some sources say that soofganiyot is actually a "descendant" of loukoumades. Try this honey and cinnamon version!
- If hosting a big Hanukkah dinner party, try a basic yet delicious entree such as roasted chicken or beef brisket. Beef tongue, simmered slowly until tender is another option. Of course there are thousands of recipes available for all of these!
- Kugel, which evolved from German steamed dumplings and now refers to casseroles or baked puddings, is Jewish food that is popular for any occasion, including holidays. There are literally dozens of variations of kugel, including those made from noodles, vegetables, fruits and dairy. Virtual Jerusalem's web site has plenty of recipes to choose from.
Remember to have fun and enjoy the company of those around you! That is the most important part of Hanukkah.