Fried foods reign supreme on Hanukkah, paying homage to the miracle of the small amount of oil that lit the ancient Temple in Jerusalem for eight days and nights. Sufganiyot, or round jelly doughnuts, emerged in 1400s Germany, and then spread to Poland and to the rest of the world, where they were designated an official food of Hanukkah in the 1920s. Making sufganiyot at home is a bit of a project, in part because of the yeasted dough, which rises overnight in the refrigerator, and partially because of the deep-frying. For the ambitious or committed doughnut lover, however, fresh sufganiyot filled with preserves or sweet cheese cannot be beat.
Like most of the foods on the Passover seder table, charoset is highly symbolic. The chutney-like mixture is usually comprised of fruits, nuts, spices, wine, and honey, but varies regionally. Ashkenazi Jews in the U.S. typically make an apple and walnut-based charoset, while Sephardi charoset recipes vary greatly, utilizing different combinations of dates, figs, raisins, pine nuts, citrus, and chestnut paste, depending on what is available geographically. While interpretations of the meaning of charoset vary, the condiment is generally thought to represent the mortar the Jews used to build the pharaohs’ buildings in ancient Egypt.
Stuffed cabbage or vine leaves is a food that is widely dispersed across the Jewish diaspora, morphing and taking on regional and cultural variation over time. The cabbage rolls are often served on Sukkot, where stuffed foods symbolize the bounty of the autumnal harvest, and on Shavuot, the holiday which celebrates the giving of the Torah—two cabbage rolls next to each other are thought to resemble Torah scrolls. This Sephardi-style stuffed cabbage recipe includes lamb, cumin, cinnamon, almonds, and currants, and is topped with crumbled feta.
This iconic purple soup gets its vivid color from beets, and can be enjoyed either hot or chilled. Though borscht is a staple dish across Russia and Poland, it is thought to have originated in Ukraine. Borscht is not always served as a holiday dish, but often accompanies Shabbat meals, and on Shavuot, borscht is frequently garnished with a dollop of sour cream, since dairy is symbolic of the purity of the Torah. This easy, Russian-style borscht is vegetarian and very hearty, with beets, potatoes, and red cabbage.
Sometimes known as the “bread of affliction,” matzo is the crunchy, unleavened foundation of the Passover table. Matzo serves as a reminder that as the Jews fled slavery in ancient Egypt, pursued by Pharaoh’s army, they did not have time to let their bread rise, and instead ate unleavened bread. Although the process of making matzo at home seems daunting, this recipe provides a simple guide which comes together in under 30 minutes and only requires flour, water, and olive oil.
Keftes de prasa, or fried leek patties, are a Sephardic Hanukkah tradition among Jews in Turkey, Greece, Southern Europe, and the Middle East. Leeks have historically played a large part in Sephardic dishes, and spread from their native eastern Mediterranean across Eurasia with the Sephardic diaspora. Much like Ashkenazi latkes, keftes de prasa are Hanukkah favorites because they’re fried in oil. Some recipes call for potato, while others, like this one, simply require leeks as the base.
Honey cake is a dense, sweet, and spiced cake typically baked on Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish new year. Honey is an essential component of any Rosh Hashanah celebration, as it represents hope for sweetness in the coming year. The preparation of honey cake is not complicated, but the ingredients in this recipe, such as cloves, nutmeg, orange juice, coffee, and (optional) whiskey, impart a deeply complex palate which offsets the sweetness of the honey. The cake is best enjoyed with a cup of tea or coffee and poached autumnal fruit, like apples or pears.
WRITTEN BY: Eliza Siegel