Hanukkah 2020: 3 delicious recipes to celebrate the Jewish festival of lights

Posted by for Food and Drink

Hanukkah 2020 officially starts on 10 December. That means eight nights of delicious food – and these delicious fried recipes are the perfect way to celebrate.

The weather is freezing, the sun goes down at 4pm, and we’re slowly winding down into hibernation mode. It’s now, as we head into the most austere depths of the year, that we look forward to the pleasures of seasonal traditions: twinkling candlelight, celebratory gatherings and, of course, plenty of good food.

Falling on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kisler and lasting for eight days, Hanukkah features all three. Also known as Chanukah, the festival commemorates the recapturing of Jerusalem from the Greeks by a small Jewish army (known as the Maccabees) in the second century BC. As they cleaned the temple following the battle, the Maccabees discovered they had just enough holy oil to light the menorah for 24 hours. Yet miraculously, the oil lasted for eight whole days, until a fresh supply could be found.

Today, Hanukkah festivities revolve around a nightly menorah lighting in the home (which is why it’s also called the Festival of Lights). Fried foods are eaten in honour of the miracle of oil – and even if you don’t celebrate Hanukkah, these traditional Jewish recipes are worth knowing about. From latkes to sufganiyot, they’re perfectly suited to cold, dark nights.

Below, you’ll find three delicious fried dishes to make over Hanukkah and beyond. For a fuss-free breakfast, lunch or on-the-go snack, try the cheese sambusak. Commonly served on Shabbat morning, these savoury turnover pastries are filled with a delicious mix of cheeses. Serve them alongside a warming vegetarian dish for a hearty main course – because frankly, pockets of melted cheese go with just about everything. 

The parsnip latkes, meanwhile, put a modern twist on the traditional potato staple. Also known as levivot in Hebrew, these crisp canapes make use of shredded parsnip for a lighter, sweeter bite.

Finally, the sufganiyot (deep-fried yeast doughnuts filled with fruit jam) are a moreish snack or dessert that can be made with multiple filling options if you’re feeling adventurous. Hanukkah Sameach!

  • Cheese sambusak

    The Jewish Cookbook: Leah Koenig’s cheese sambusak

    Leah Koenig says: “Popular throughout the Middle East, these savoury, handheld turnovers get stuffed with a variety of fillings including a mix of sharp and salty cheeses. Traditionally deep-fried (many home cooks today bake them instead), they are commonly served on Shabbat morning and also on Hanukkah, when fried foods are customary. But they are also great for lunch or as a tote-along snack.”

    Makes about 2 dozen turnovers

    Preparation time: 45 minutes

    Cooking time: 35 minutes

    Ingredients

    For the dough:

    • 120ml vegetable oil
    • 1 egg
    • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt
    • 280–350g plain flour

    For the filling:

    • 225g crumbled feta cheese
    • 115g parmesan cheese, grated
    • 2 eggs
    • 1⁄2 teaspoon onion powder (optional)
    • 1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    For assembly:

    • flour, for dusting
    • egg wash: 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water
    • sesame seeds, for topping (optional)

    Method

    To make the dough, whisk together the oil, 120ml water, egg, and salt in a large bowl until well combined and foamy. Stir in the flour, a little at a time, until a soft dough forms (you might not use the full 350g). 

    Form the dough into a disc, wrap with cling film, and let sit at room temperature while making the filling.

    To make the filling, combine the feta, parmesan, eggs, onion powder (if using), salt, and pepper in a food processor and pulse until a thick paste forms.

    To assemble the turnovers, pinch off a walnut-size piece of dough and roll it into a ball. Working on a lightly floured surface, roll it out into a 10cm round. Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling into the middle of the round. 

    Fold one side of the round over to the other to make a half-moon, pinching it tightly to seal the filling inside. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

    To bake the sambusak, preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and dived the turnovers between them. 

    Brush the tops of the turnovers with a little egg wash (you might not use all of it) and sprinkle with sesame seeds (if using). Bake until golden brown, 30–35 minutes. Set the baking sheets on wire racks to cool.

    Alternatively, to fry the sambusak, line a large plate with two layers of paper towel. In a large saucepan, heat 5cm vegetable oil over medium heat. 

    Gently slip the turnovers into the hot oil in batches of 4 or 5 and fry until golden brown, flipping once halfway through, 4–5 minutes. Transfer the fried sambusak to the paper towels to drain. 

    From The Jewish Cookbook by Lean Koenig (£35, Phaidon), out now

  • Parsnip latkes

    In Praise of Veg: Alice Zaslavksy’s parsnip latkes

    Alice Zaslavksy says: “Latkes are a staple food of one of Judaism’s most popular holidays, Hannukah. The ‘Festival of Lights’, as it is otherwise known, celebrates the lighting of a one-day supply of oil that lasted for eight days instead of one night – kind of like your smartphone sitting on 1% for a whole week. Clearly a miracle. 

    “This miracle is marked by yet another one – eating your weight in oily food, from doughnuts to fried fish, to my personal favourite, fried starchy veg. These latkes, which are essentially rösti by another name, are most often made with potato, which is absolutely delicious if that’s all you have, but if you’re packin’ parsnips, add some in and you’ll end up with a remarkably lighter, sweeter, miraculous canapé – no matter what you’re celebrating.”

    Makes 16-18 (depending on size)

    Ingredients

    • 1 roasting or baking potato (160g), washed and scrubbed (no need to peel)
    • 2 medium-large parsnips (360g), washed and scrubbed (no need to peel)
    • 1 French shallot (or small brown onion), peeled
    • ½ teaspoon salt flakes, plus extra for sprinkling
    • ½ lemon
    • 2 eggs
    • 35g plain gluten-free flour (or matzo meal)
    • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
    • 125ml sunflower oil and/or peanut oil

    Serving suggestions:

    • salmon roe
    • smoked salmon
    • crème fraîche
    • dill or chervil sprigs
    • lemon wedges

    Method

    Line a bowl with muslin. Coarsely grate the potato, parsnip and shallot into the bowl. Add the salt and squeeze in the lemon juice. Pop the used lemon half in a small bowl of water and reserve.

    Combine the mixture with your hands, squeezing out any excess moisture. Twist the cloth into a swag, using a wooden spoon as a tourniquet, and hang this over the bowl to catch the liquid; you can also use a sieve or colander to keep it elevated. Let the liquid stand undisturbed for at least five minutes to let the starch settle.

    Beat the eggs in another bowl using a fork. Add the potato mixture, along with the flour and pepper. Scoop out the starch that has settled on the bottom of the first bowl (it’ll feel like runny glue) and add this to the bowl as well.

    Use your hands or a wooden spoon to combine all the ingredients very well, almost as you would a meat patty. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, high-sided frying pan. Test that it’s ready by adding a little of the mixture – it should sizzle and colour almost immediately.

    Line a baking tray with paper towel. Using a 60ml measuring cup, scoop out equal portions of the latke mix and shape into flat patties, dipping your hands in your bowl of reserved lemon water every now and then to stop the mixture sticking to your hands. 

    Working in batches, fry the latkes for 3–4 minutes on each side, until golden. Drain on paper towel, sprinkling with extra salt flakes as soon as they come out of the oil. (If you like, you can pop them on a wire rack over a baking tray and keep in a 100°C oven until all the latkes are ready.)

    Serve warm, as the base for all manner of schmears and toppings – my favourite is the classic crème fraiche (or sour cream) and smoked salmon (or salmon roe), garnished with dill or chervil.

    From In Praise of Veg: A Modern Kitchen Companion by Alice Zaslavksy (£25, Murdoch Books), out now

  • Sufganiyot

    The Jewish cookbook: Leah Koenig’s sufganiyot

    Leah Koenig says: “In Israel, no Hanukkah celebration is complete without sufganiyot — puffy yeast doughnuts that are filled with jam. Originally brought to Israel by Polish Jews (who called them ponchik), bakeries across the country now overflow with the deep-fried pastries in the weeks leading up to the Festival of Lights. In recent years, sufganiyot have also become increasingly popular in America.”

    Makes about 15 doughnuts

    Preparation time: 20 minutes, plus rising

    Cooking time: 15 minutes

    Ingredients

    • 1 packet (7g) active dry yeast
    • 50g plus 1 teaspoon sugar
    • 120ml warm water (43°C)
    • 350g plain flour, plus more for kneading and rolling
    • 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 2 egg yolks
    • 75ml milk
    • 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 30g unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature
    • vegetable oil, for greasing the bowl and frying
    • strawberry, raspberry, or apricot jam (not jelly), for filling
    • icing sugar, for dusting

    Method

    In a medium bowl, stir together the yeast, 1 teaspoon of the sugar, and the warm water. Let sit until the mixture is bubbling and foaming, about 5 minutes.

    Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.

    Add the remaining 50g sugar, the egg yolks, milk, and vanilla to the yeast mixture and whisk to combine. Pour the wet mixture into the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together and begins to form a ball.

    Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Scatter the butter pieces over the dough and knead, sprinkling with additional flour as necessary, until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is smooth, shiny, and elastic, about 8 minutes. (The kneading can also be done in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, 5–7 minutes.) Grease a large bowl with 1 teaspoon vegetable oil.

    Form the dough into a ball, place in the bowl, and turn to coat. Cover the bowl with cling film or a damp tea towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 1⁄2–2 hours.

    Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Fit a wire cooling rack inside a large sheet pan.

    Gently deflate the dough with the heel of your hand and transfer it to a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin to a 6mm thickness. Using a 7.5cm round biscuit or cookie cutter, stamp out as many dough rounds as possible and place them on the lined baking sheet. 

    Gather the scraps, reroll, and cut out more rounds. Cover the dough rounds loosely with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until puffed, about 30 minutes.

    Meanwhile, pour 5cm of oil into a casserole or large heavy-bottomed pot, set over medium heat, and bring to 185°C on a deep-fry thermometer.

    Working in batches of 4, gently add the dough rounds to the hot oil and fry, flipping once, until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the wire rack in the sheet pan. Let cool slightly.

    Use a small knife to puncture the side of each doughnut to form a pocket, then use a spoon or piping bag to fill with jam. Place the filled doughnuts back on the wire rack and dust tops with icing sugar. Serve immediately. 

    From The Jewish Cookbook by Lean Koenig (£35, Phaidon), out now

Photography: Evan Sung; Ben Dearnley

Share this article

Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.