Potato latkes served spitting from the pan with a dollop of applesauce or sour cream, and pillowy sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) brimming with jam are the stuff that deep-fried dreams are made of. But when it comes to Hanukkah deliciousness, they are just the beginning. Around the world, Jewish communities celebrate the Festival of Lights by frying everything from sweet cheese filled pancakes to chicken. (Yep, fried chicken is traditional Hanukkah food.)
After all, Hanukkah’s primary food theme is not potatoes — it’s oil. The holiday celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Macacabees recaptured it from the ancient Greeks. As the legend goes, the Maccabees only found enough olive oil to rekindle the Temple’s menorah for one night. But somehow it lasted for eight full days and nights. It is hard to imagine a better way to celebrate Hanukkah’s “miracle of oil” then by indulging in a ridiculous amount of fried food.
Below, I have rounded up some of my favorite holiday fritters from across the globe. I have also shared a recipe for super-simple, briny fried artichoke hearts from my cookbook, Little Book of Jewish Appetizers. As a die hard latke and doughnut fan, I would never suggest taking either of these treats out of the annual Hanukkah rotation. But when it comes to fried food, more is definitely merrier.
Meanwhile, a frying #protip: Cooking stuff in hot oil is going to make your kitchen smell like oil — even if you fry with the windows open. Combat the stale grease smell by throwing some water, cinnamon, cloves, and a sliced lemon into a saucepan, and bringing it to a simmer over medium heat. Before long, your apartment will smell like a winter wonderland.
For Syrian and Lebanese Jews, no Hanukkah is complete without atayef — petite pancakes that get filled with sweet, soft cheese and chopped pistachios, and then deep fried. (Think: a puffier take on a cannoli). To gild the lily, these fried wonders are then doused in a syrup perfumed with rose water or orange blossom water.
Perhaps it comes as no surprise, but Italian Jews are basically culinary geniuses. On Hanukkah, they deep fry a variety of different foods, including chicken. The chicken pieces are simply battered with egg and flour (though you can dress them up by adding spices like oregano, thyme, or smoked paprika to the flour), then slipped into oil until crackling.
North African Jews celebrate Hanukkah with rustic doughnuts called sfenj. The fritters are made from a yeasted dough that is stretched into elongated rings and sizzled in a pan of bubbling oil. The golden-fried pastries are then drizzled with honey or an orange blossom syrup, or sprinkled with sugar. Moroccan Jews serve them with hot mint tea.
India’s historic Bene Israel community has a unique take on sweet Hanukkah fritters. They enrich the dough dried milk powder and ghee, giving the Hanukkah treats a sweet, creamy flavor. The little round fritters go from the fryer directly into a sugar syrup flavored with cardamom.
Sephardic Jews serve keftes — patties made from vegetables, meat, or fish — year-round. But the oil-slicked, pan-fried fritters make perfect Hanukkah fare. One of the most common varieties, keftes de Prasa, are made from spinach and get a kick of heat from chili flakes.
Deep Fried Artichokes
Rome’s historic Jewish community has a cuisine all of its own. The most famous dish from the Roman Jewish kitchen is carciofi all giudia, aka “Jewish-style artichokes,” which crisps artichokes into crunchy, salt-kissed flowers. They are super delicious — if you ever find yourself in Rome, head straight to the “Jewish ghetto” neighborhood and seek them out. But they also are a chore to prepare, since each artichoke needs to be painstakingly trimmed of its thorny outer leaves. The recipe below offers a hack, beginning with brined artichoke hearts that crisp into dreamy little nuggets, without the fuss.
Fried Artichoke Hearts
These fritters taste great served with nothing more than a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. But if you’re feeling fancy, mix together a dipping sauce of mayonnaise with a little honey and sriracha or harissa paste, to taste.
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, beaten
2 cups unseasoned panko breadcrumbs
2 14-oz cans quartered artichoke hearts, drained and dried with paper towels
Vegetable oil for frying
Lemon wedges, for serving
1. Line a large plate with a couple of layers of paper towels. Put the flour in a wide, shallow bowl, the eggs in a second bowl, and the bread crumbs in a third bowl. Dredge the artichoke hearts in the flour, shaking off excess. Dip in the egg, then dredge in the breadcrumbs. Place on a separate plate while the oil heats.
2. Fill a large saucepan with 1/2 in of oil and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Working in batches of 7 or 8, fry the artichokes until crisp and golden brown, turning once with tongs, 6 to 7 minutes per batch. Adjust the heat if the artichokes are browning too quickly, and add more oil, if necessary. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the fried artichokes to the paper-towel lined plate and let drain. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately, with lemon wedges on the side for squeezing.
From Little Book of Jewish Appetizers by Leah Koenig, photographs by Linda Pugliese (Chronicle Books, 2017).