Chanukah is almost here, giving Jews and their gentile friends an excuse to start their holiday noshing now! Jewish holidays tend to revolve around food, as the running theme among the chosen people’s festivities goes, “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat!”
The most customary Chanukah dish here in the United States would of course be the latke, also known as the potato pancake. But did you know that various Jewish traditions offer lots of alternatives?
For Sephardic Jews, fried pastries dipped in honey are popular. Among the Hasidic community in New York, a delicacy for the holiday is a cheese Danish named delkelekh. Italian Jews make a garlicky artichoke recipe that derives from the Roman Jewish ghetto. There are other varieties of pancakes besides the typical potato – cheese, curried sweet potato latkes, purple potato, zucchini, celery root, leek, and parsnip latkes (which are my personal favorite). If you are anything like me and have a hankering for sweets on the regular, there are sufganiyots. Sufganiyot are citrus-scented jelly doughnuts. Apple fritters are also quite tasty and easy to prepare.
Many Chanukah recipes involve the use of oil because this is, after all, the holiday that celebrates the famous miracle of Judah Maccabee and his brothers only having enough olive oil to light the candelabra in the Temple of Jerusalem for one night but miracle upon miracles- the oil ended up lasting for eight whole nights. The custom of celebrating the olive is a tradition in Israel since Chanukah is so intricately connected with olive oil. Therefore, munching on olives or dipping bread in a green grassy-flavored olive oil with roasted garlic would also be keeping with tradition this holiday season.
It is around this time of year that I am constantly complaining about my jeans being too tight. Even though latkes are typically deep fried, there are low-fat alternatives to the latke as well. Try baking your latkes instead of frying them or making a hearty vegetable soup as a first course option so that you are fuller by the time you get to the latkes. Also, homemade applesauce on the side as a dipping sauce is a nutritious option.
Jewish meals are typically made with love, and latkes are a dish that will satisfy any bubbie or shiksa alike. This year if you are lighting a menorah or sinking your teeth into a crispy golden brown salty or sweet latke, remember that we say “Happy Chanukah” because it is a celebration of happiness and the miracle of light.