Latkes and Jelly Donuts
A cross between a beignet and a jelly donut, sufganiyot are pillowy donuts that are eaten in Israel and around the world during Hanukah. Sufganiyot are traditionally filled with jelly or jam, but if your family or guests do not care for jelly in their donuts, the filling options are limitless: custard, Nutella, pudding, pumpkin butter, apple butter, or dulce de leche are all great options. Sufganiyot are also delicious plain.
And latkes (fried potato pancakes), probably the best-known example of traditional Hanukkah food, are also a relatively modern part of Hanukkah celebrations, at least as we know them today. The potatoes only became part of the recipe — and a big part of the Eastern European Jewish diet in general — in the mid-19th century, when a lot of potatoes got planted after “a series of crop failures in Ukraine and Poland in 1839 and 1840,” according to Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. German immigrants then brought the tradition to America. Potatoes were also a cheaper option than wheat flour and cheese (the version of latkes served in the Middle Ages were made of cheese usually from goats or sheep). Which leads us to…
Cheese Blintzes and Other Dairy Foods
It’s not a common Hanukkah tradition, but if you end up at a table with dairy foods, it’s probably a reflection of a misinterpretation of the book of Judith. The text, composed around 115 BCE, tells of how Judith, a young widow from a town besieged by the Babylonians, infiltrated the enemy camp, fed the commanding general salty cheese to induce thirst, plied him with wine to slack his thirst until the general fell into a drunken stupor, then cut off his head with his own sword. In response to the loss of their leader, the enemy army panicked and fled. But historians point out that the story actually takes place about 400 years before the rule of the Syrian-Greek empire that took on the Maccabees. The confusion dates to the Middle Ages when the written version of the Judith story had been lost and the oral version began to meld with that other story of victory by an underdog Jewish force.
In the end, it we got the Blintz, and we now fill it with everything we fill Sufganiyots with and more. Today, the blintz is a food enjoyed thoughout the year here in NYC and of course a Hanukkah favorite.
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