5 classic dishes to make for Hanukkah

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5 classic dishes to make for Hanukkah

Whether you are a sucker for tradition or not, Phillippa Cheifitz’s classic Hanukkah recipes – from latkes to brisket to home-made gelt coins – will take your festive table to new heights

The eight-day holiday of Hanukkah (10–18 December this year) is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah at sundown and the sharing of traditional foods and gifts.

The history

Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after the Jews rose up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the second century BC. They were called upon to rebuild the temple’s altar and light the menorah (ceremonial candelabrum). Although there was only enough olive oil to keep the candles burning for one day, the flames miraculously continued to burn for eight nights.

The lights

The menorah is the centrepiece of the Hanukkah celebration. Eight candles symbolise the number of days that the oil burnt; the ninth, the shamash, is used to light the others

The feast:

Traditional Hanukkah foods are fried in oil. Potato pancakes (latkes) are popular among Jews of eastern European (Ashkenazi) origin. Sephardic Jews, who settled throughout the Middle East, North Africa and southern Europe after the diaspora, enjoy other fried dishes, including keftes de prasa (leek-and-potato fritters) and sweet fried pastries such as burmwelos and sufganiyot – fried jelly doughnuts filled with jam.


My friend Sara Benetar recently shared her late mother’s recipe for burmwelos with me. Donna Benetar was renowned in the Cape Town Sephardic community for her cooking.


Find the recipe for Burmwelos here. 


Brisket is a popular choice for an Ashkenazi family gathering, while lamb would be the Sephardi preference. As it’s hot in December when Hanukkah is celebrated, I’ve used brisket in a salad. Lamb would work well, too.


Find the recipe for slow-cooked-brisket-salad here.

Potato latkes

Crisp and hot out of the pan, latkes are addictive and perfect as is but are often served with apple sauce and sour cream. Sometimes they’re sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. But for a real treat, serve them with ribbons of smoked salmon and sour cream.

Potato latkes

Find the recipe for potato latkes here. 

Hanukkah gelt

Giving gifts of money (gelt) has been a tradition since the 17th century. It began with parents giving gelt to teachers, then later to children as a reward for Torah study. Today the ‘gelt’ is made of gold and silver foil-wrapped chocolate coins packed in small pouches reminiscent of money bags. You can buy chocolate coins but it’s easy to make chocolate discs at home and dust with edible gold or silver shimmer.


Find the recipe for Hanukkah gelt here. 

Pickled cucumbers

Pickles are always added to the table for nibbling, as an appetiser, or eaten throughout the meal. I like to keep a jar of this quick-and-simple recipe in the fridge.


Find the recipe for Pickled cucumbers here.

Photographs: Toby Murphy
Production: Brita Du Plessis
Food assistant: Nicola Naude

Phillippa Cheifitz Article by: Phillippa Cheifitz

Regular TASTE contributor Phillippa is a well-known South African author and food writer, and has won many awards, both for her magazine features and her cookbooks.

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