Everyone knows the latke, the most notorious of the Hanukkah dishes, whose abundant use of oil commemorates the ancient tale of a single container of olive oil—the only one left intact after the routing and successful retaking of the second temple by the Maccabees in the mid-second century BCE—which kept a temple lamp burning brightly for eight days and nights, until a new supply of temple oil could be prepared.
Just about any root-y, long-cooked, wintery dish, especially one lavished with oil, is good for Hanukkah. And since the holiday lasts for eight nights, you’ve plenty of opportunities for experimenting with tasty oils, root vegetables, and dried fruits.
The rugelach, a wee cookie made with cream cheese dough and dried fruit filling is a perfect choice. Other likely candidates for celebrating your own Hanukkah include tzimmes—a savory-sweet casserole of fruit and vegetables, long-cooked—and kugel, another casserole/skillet dish usually based on noodles or potatoes. Both are common to the foodways of Jewish and Christian immigrants from northern and eastern Europe, in the sense that these oven-baked, root vegetable-and-dried fruit dishes appear across cultures.
Sweet Potato-Apricot-Ginger Tzimmes
Tzimmes is usually made for sabbath meals and the fall holiday, Sukkot. Because it is comforting and autumnal, you can make it one of your Hanukkah traditions. The fruit added to the sweet potatoes can be prunes, dried apricots, canned pineapple, raisins, candied sharp ginger—whatever sounds appealing to you. If you prefer more texture than sweet potatoes provide, you can use sliced kabocha squash, which will retain most of its shape.
Preheat oven to 400°.
4 sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup dried fruit, snipped, or crushed canned pineapple
½ teaspoon sea salt
brown sugar to taste
- Steam or roast whole sweet potatoes, then cool and mash or cut into thick rounds (they will be sticky; wet your knife first).
- Lightly grease a Pyrex or ceramic casserole. If you’re mashing the sweet potatoes, add all the butter at once, mix it in, and then gently fold in dried fruit, salt and sugar. If you’re using sweet potato slices, dot the first layer of slices with butter, then dried fruit, salt and sugar. Build up successive layers the same way.
- Bake for about 25 minutes. (If you want to really gild the lily, you can sprinkle sliced almonds across the top halfway through the baking.)
Rose Family Potato Kugel
This recipe is adapted from Joan Nathan’s wonderful The Jewish Holiday Kitchen (1988). You could call this a latke by another name: it’s definitely potato-y, onion-y, totally delicious—and a lot less messy and smoky to make.
Preheat oven to 400°.
2 pounds russets, peeled
1 tablespoon shallot, chopped
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs, well beaten
- Grate potatoes on coarse; salt lightly, and allow to drain in colander for about 30 minutes.
- Fry onions and shallot in ¼ c. chicken fat or olive oil for about 5 minutes. Move to a cold burner, add potatoes and pepper, and mix well. Allow mixture to cool for a few minutes; add beaten eggs.
- Preheat 10-inch cast iron skillet and warm the second ¼ cup of fat or olive oil in it. Turn potato mixture into skillet; smooth top with spatula. Bake for 50 minutes, uncovered. Before serving, brush top with a little chicken fat or oil; set about 6 inches below broiler and broil until top becomes crispy.
- Serve with sour cream.
These cute little cookies aren’t difficult to make, but they are time-consuming. Like tsimmes, rugelach are very elastic in terms of what you add to them. You can fill them with simmered, mashed prunes or dried apricots; raisins and nuts; jam. This recipe is adapted from Joan Nathan, and it’s very reliable.
Makes 48–60, depending on size.
Ingredients for dough:
½ pound room-temperature unsalted butter
8 ounces room-temperature cream cheese
2 cups all-purpose flour
Ingredients for filling:
½ cup sugar
½ cup raisins
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup finely chopped nuts
½ cup seeded prunes
½ cup water
Simmer prunes in water until very soft; mash with fork.
½ cup dried apricots
½ cup water
½–1 teaspoon powdered ginger
Simmer apricots in water until very soft; mash with fork; mix in ginger.
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup strawberry jam
Mix together for filling.
- Cream butter and cream cheese together; beat in flour gradually. Knead dough gently until all flour has been incorporated. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
- When dough is firm, preheat oven to 350° and divide dough into 3–4 portions; keep others cool and covered.
- Roll out one portion of dough into a circle that’s thin (about 1/16 inch). Use a knife or pastry wheel to divide circle into 16 wedges.
- Spread filling on each wedge and then roll it up from the wide edge to the point. Repeat with all portions of dough and filling.
- Put rugelach on ungreased cookie sheet and sprinkle each one with a little bit of white sugar.
- Bake until a beautiful gold (20–25 minutes); place them on cooling racks.
- For even tastier rugelach, brush cookies with melted butter after they’ve cooled for about 15 minutes.