Doughnuts and potato pancakes: The simple pleasures of Hanukkah

Story highlights

  • The word Chanukah or Hanukkah means re-dedication and is also known as the Jewish Festival of Lights
  • It is celebrated for eight days and each day a candle on the Hanukiah -- an eight-stemmed candelabrum -- is lit
  • Popular Chanukah food includes latkes (fried potato pancakes) and sufganiyots (doughnuts)
It is no accident that Hanukkah comes in the darkest time of year. The winter holidays are about light, about miracles, and about waking up to light when it is least visible to the naked eye. Food-wise, we jolt our senses alive through texture, taste and flavor with fried foods that couple warmth, crispness, and the smoothness of oil in order to reinvigorate and fine-tune us just as the sun begins to seemingly disappear altogether.
For some, Hanukkah is "the potato pancake holiday" -- a holiday that takes the mundane potato and gives it a massive makeover. It is shredded and tossed and recombined, squeezed and remolded into new form and then fried up lightly so that its texture shifts, its flavor alters. The latke (pancake) itself becomes the miracle of light, of oil, and of transformation.
Hanukkah has always been this "potato pancake holiday" in my house. No matter what I serve, my family likes simple crispy potato latkes best. Yet in this vastly changing landscape of food, I have tried all different kinds: zucchini, beet, sweet potato, celery root, and apple-horseradish. The favorite is still simple potato. Today we have tiny latkes served with goat's cheese, tomatoes, herbs, or topped with smoked salmon and dill at latke and vodka parties. Topped with salmon, they make great appetizers.