Dec. 20, 2011 at 8:13 AM ET
Hanukkah, the festival of lights, starts at sundown Tuesday night. Jews around the world will celebrate the ancient holiday with dreidel games, menorahs, and, of course, food!
Traditional Hanukkah food is all about the oil — to commemorate the oil that lit the first Chanukiah (special Hanukkah menorah) for eight nights, pretty much everything is fried. As a card-carrying Hanukkah enthusiast, I have had more than my fair share of latkes and jelly doughnuts at Hanukkah parties. But Venezuelan chicken stew? Nutella beignets? Fast food latkes? These Hanukkah dishes are like nothing your bubbe (Yiddish for grandma) ever made!
Mexican latkes and sweet and sour brisket
Latkes made with corn, jalapenos, and cilantro? It surely isn't what my grandpa ate back in Poland, but Amy Kritzer, of What Jew Wanna Eat, loves these Mexican Latkes. "Living in Texas, we add spice to everything, and I thought jalapeno would be a perfect complement to the fried potato,” she said. “Turns out it is!" She gets her inspiration from reading blogs and chatting with other foodies, but says that her favorite tip is to "just wander around[the] local supermarket and discover local and seasonal ingredients." Make it an entirely Tex-Mex Hanukkah feast by serving these latkes with Krtizer's Texan BBQ-influenced brisket - a little bit of tradition, a little bit of Texan, and a whole lot of delicious.
For more Jewish-Mexican favorites, be sure to check out the blog Challa-peno, written by a mother-daughter cooking duo who demystify the Jewish food culture in Mexico, with recipes like flanken in salsa de chile de arbol.
Since Hanukkah is all about the oil, doughnuts are a no-brainer, and sufganiyot, or jelly-filled doughnuts, are traditional Hanukkah fare. Ariela and Peter Pelaia, who run the blog Sweet Happy Life, took the idea one step further with their Nutella beignets. Inspired by a visit to New Orleans' famed Cafe du Monde, Ariela says this is the perfect Hanukkah dish because it’s a twist on tradition and allows kids to help out in the kitchen. As she puts it, "We were looking for ways our toddler could help prepare the dough. What's more toddler-friendly than playing with dough and scooping chocolate? Even very young toddlers can help with parts of this recipe." Get the full recipe on Kveller.
Venezuelan Arroz Con Pollo
No one can live solely on fried potatoes and dough, so when it’s time to complete the meal, forgo the standard pot roast and go for something a little out of the ordinary. Miriam Kesh's Venezuelan Arroz Con Pollo is something she ate on many Jewish Sabbaths when she was growing up in Venezuela. The daughter of a Sephardic Jewish mother who was raised in Nicaragua, Kesh remembers celebrating Jewish holidays with Venezuelan recipes, and this dish, filled with saffron, garlic and olives, is the perfect main course for those of you who are tired of the bland chicken and stringy beef you always eat at your mom's Hanukkah parties (sorry, mom).
Alsatian Hanukkah fruit bread
Joan Nathan might as well be the Joan of Arc of Jewish cooking — she is the patron saint and utmost authority on Jewish history, heritage and culture related to food. When she published her cookbook “Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France,” she focused on the Jewish community living in all parts of France, and how French cooking techniques and ingredients blended with Jewish traditions and culture. Jews who live in Alsace, near the German border of France, make this Hutzel Wecken, a sweet fruit bread that is subtle and elegant — a far cry from the cocktail weenies in grape jelly that my grandmother made (but then, we aren't those fancy French Jews).
Fast food latkes
Some people might consider this a shanda (shame), but to thousands of broke, lazy college kids, it's pure genius. The folks at Fancy Fast Food put together a latke that looks gorgeous enough for the cover of any high-end cooking magazine, using just ingredients from a Wendy's drive-through menu. A few orders of hash browns, a couple of baked potatoes, some sauces and a sprinkling of organic chives "for a touch of irony" are all that are in these fast-food latkes. Hash browns never looked so great or so haymishe (having Jewish soul).
Reading about all of these latkes really inspired me. How could I just be satisfied with plain old potato pancakes after reading about all these? So, I used my favorite Korean ingredients to create kimchi latkes that are spicy, savory, and definitely out of the ordinary. A little kimchi, a touch of gochujang, and a heaping addition of Jewish guilt make these chili-and-cilantro-laden latkes one of my favorite new fusion dishes.
Tell us, how do you jazz up your Hanukkah dishes?
Sarah Spigelman will eat anything that isn't moving too fast for her to catch. She believes that if the kimchi isn't spicy enough to make her eyes tear and her nose run, it really isn't a meal.