4 Festive, COVID-Friendly Hanukkah Celebrations
The eight nights will definitely look different this year, but you can still have fun with easy Hanukkah recipes for latkes, applesauce, sufganiyot, and more
I’ve heard the Hanukkah story so many times, I can tell it from memory. The simple version: It revolves around a miracle that took place after the Jewish people prevailed over a vicious king who had destroyed their temple in Jerusalem. When they went to re-light the menorah, a tiny amount of oil, enough for just one day, kept the flames burning for eight nights. So, naturally, we’ve spent millennia celebrating the joyous Festival of Light with foods cooked in oil, like latkes and sufganiyot. For fun, we play dreidel, a game with a spinning top marked by the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hey, and shin. They’re the first letters of the phrase “Nes gadol haya sham,” which translates into “A great miracle happened there.” In my family, the winner gets Hanukkah gelt, gold-wrapped chocolate coins. Fried food and chocolate: Is it any wonder this was my favorite holiday when I was a kid?
Crispy potato latkes and sufganiyot: traditional Hanukkah food
Potato pancakes served with applesauce and sour cream are the all-time classic Hanukkah dish, and the perfect comfort food for the times we’re living in. Unless you’re vegetarian or vegan, brisket and chicken take center stage as far as Hanukkah main dishes go, sometimes with egg noodles or potato kugel on the side. (If you don’t eat meat, down below, I’ve got a vegan celebratory menu just for you.) As our traditional food is on the heavier side, I like to keep Hanukkah appetizers light, nothing more than crudités and hummus. We end the meal with smallish sugar-coated jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot, an Israeli Hanukkah tradition that — lucky for us — has made its way to America. I had my first one at my son’s Jewish preschool more than a decade ago, and we’ve been eating them annually ever since.
Hanukkah food traditions in an untraditional time
Thanks to COVID-19, this year’s holiday season won’t look like any previous one, and I’m pretty sure there’s no miracle on the horizon. So, we’re reinventing our Hanukkah celebrations. Instead of my extended family’s large annual gathering at my brother and sister-in-law’s house, where I’d normally serve dozens and dozens of latkes, we’ll be eating a Hanukkah chicken dinner together over Zoom. My immediate family of three will mark the first night with brisket, latkes, and homemade applesauce, which will leave plenty of leftovers (yay!). Depending on how COVID restrictions look, we may also have an itty-bitty Hanukkah party with another family, observing all the recommended social distancing practices. We’ll find ways to have fun together, to honor the traditions and enjoy time with family and friends, which might be a kind of miracle after all.
Jump ahead to:
Just the family: a traditional Hanukkah dinner
Six out of the eight nights, it’ll be just the three of us. For the first evening, I’m planning a greatest-hits dinner, full of traditional Hanukkah food.
No Jewish celebration has ever gone wrong with a classic slow-braised brisket. Plenty of fresh herbs plus a secret ingredient or two make this one taste like Bubbe’s, only better. We’ll have oodles of leftovers, and I’m going to turn some into latke tacos.
I grew up in a mixed-latke household: When my mom was manning the frying pan, the potatoes were shredded, with crispy, lacy edges. My dad, on the other hand, always grated his taters — his Hanukkah latkes were more substantial, with a more defined shape. This latke recipe offers the best of both versions, with shredded potatoes that you form into patties before frying.
You can’t serve latkes without applesauce (I’m pretty sure it’s in the Torah). I like to make it in the Instant Pot — not only is it lightning-fast, but the pressure cooker also breaks down the apples as they cook, so the sauce comes out of the pot perfectly chunky, just the way I like it. Because this recipe is going with latkes, I’ll leave the cinnamon out of it.
Now, this recipe may not be part of everyone’s Hanukkah food traditions, but saucy chocolate pudding cake was my mom’s go-to for ending a festive meal. She’d pop it in the oven just before we sat down to eat (it takes about 5 minutes to put together), and by the time we’d polished off the last latke, it would be ready. I loved watching the serving spoon dig into that dark, craggy lid of cake, because I knew that underneath was a magical puddle of gooey chocolate sauce.
A Zoom party with the perfect Hanukkah chicken recipe
The second night of Hanukkah falls on a Friday this year, our Sabbath. So, my brothers’ families, my dad, and my family are planning to light candles, say the blessings over challah and wine, and eat a Hanukkah dinner together over Zoom. We’ll each prepare the same main dish and side dish ahead of time. Between dinner and dessert, we’ll also play a few rounds of Zoom dreidel. That ought to be interesting.
Got to have challah bread on Friday night, right? This recipe gives you a burnished, egg-enriched, braided loaf — just what you want for Shabbat and also for French toast on Sunday.
Simmering chicken thighs in an abundance of olive oil not only leads to a decadently luscious piece of chicken, perfect for Shabbat — it also honors the spirit of Hanukkah. This recipe has potatoes in it, so we’ll skip the latkes tonight.
A simple, bright-tasting salad makes a light complement to luxurious chicken and potatoes. I love the crunch you get from tossing in pumpkin seeds.
I’m the baker in the family, so I’m busting out my Hanukkah cookie cutters to make a bunch of sugar cookies like these, with homemade dough. I’ll decorate them in blue, white, and silver and deliver to everyone the day before our Zoom party. Shhh, don’t tell them — it’s a surprise!
A social-distanced vegan Hanukkah party
The CDC would rather we not have gatherings, but they also acknowledge it’s unlikely that everyone will just stay home for all of December. So, they’re urging us to assess the risks and keep it small. (In New York, where I live, we’re restricted to fewer than 10 people.) I’ll decide at the last minute whether to go through with my plan to have a mini-party with some vegan friends, but if I do, here’s how I’ll pull it off: I’ll set up separate tables for each quarantine bubble group and give each its own trays of vegan Hanukkah recipes. I’ll ask our guests to stay seated, leave their masks on, and take them off only for eating or drinking. We’ll keep the gathering brief. Everyone will eat their fill of vegan latkes, kugel, salad, and a vegan doughnut or two, play a quick round of dreidel at their own tables, and say goodnight.
If you’re searching for a vegan latke to satisfy your childhood Hanukkah memories, look no further. Crispy, oniony, irresistible.
Yes, noodles and potatoes together make a pretty starch-heavy dinner. But it’s a celebration! And the kugel has spinach! This savory noodle pudding uses tofu and nutritional yeast instead of sour cream and cheese.
To go with latkes and kugel, you’ve got to have something light and fresh-tasting. A chopped salad with tons of herbs and a lemony dressing does the trick.
A simple flax-and-water egg replacement and some vegan butter are all you need to create jelly doughnuts without any animal products. The tart raspberry jam filling is right up my alley.
A Hanukkah picnic with fried chicken and sufganiyot
The absolute safest way to get together is to do it outdoors. If you’re lucky to live in a climate warm enough for December picnics, spread out some blankets on the lawn — one per quarantine pod. Use disposable dishes, cutlery, and napkins for easy (and contamination-free) cleanup.
Who doesn’t love fried chicken at a picnic? This version adds a little cornstarch to the breading for extra crispy bits — and of course, it’s fried, so it includes a nod to the Hanukkah story.
Bite-size latkes are just the thing for a picnic — they’re easy to transport, easy to eat. Making them small helps them retain their crunch, too.
All that fried food definitely needs a fresh side to cut through the heaviness. A vinegary-spicy-sweet cucumber salad does so beautifully. It comes together in 15 minutes, too, which helps.
Jelly doughnuts are great for a picnic, individually-portioned and easy to pack. If you’ve never made sufganiyot before, check out this recipe — it has detailed step-by-step photos and a how-to video.
Check out more great Hanukkah recipes
Do we have a lot of recipes for you! On Yummly, you’ll find thousands of choices for Hanukkah favorites like roast chicken and short ribs. On Yummly’s Hanukkah landing page, there are specific recipes for the Jewish holiday, including matzo ball soup, rugelach, and babka. As always, you’ll find even more choices in the following recipe collections.