Let's get one thing straight: When it comes to Hanukkah foods, we're not looking at low-cal, low-fat. cardiologist-approved eats. It is all about frying.
Because oil fueled the Hanukkah "miracle" — a small pot of oil lasted eight days instead of the anticipated one day in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem — Jews celebrate the candle-lighting holiday by using oil to cook. So, frying is the cooking method of choice.
Let's get one more thing straight: Hanukkah is one great excuse to indulge in eating delicious foods that may not be low-fat, low-cal, or get your cardiologist's seal-of-approval. As nutritionists say, everything in moderation. Besides, you can count calories and worry about your fat intake on the remaining 357 days of the year.
So go ahead: light candles, spin dreidels and enjoy the following culinary musts of the holiday. And if you're not up to cooking them yourself — after all, this year Hanukkah arrives three (gulp!) days after Thanksgiving — you're in luck: There are shops and restaurants eager to cook them for you.
Perhaps no other food says Hanukkah like latkes, those crisp-on-the-outside, moist-on-the-inside pan-fried potato pancakes that, like potato chips, are impossible to limit to just eating one. Have them as an appetizer, main meal or a snack. Have them plain, with apple sauce or sour cream. Make them with sweet potatoes, zucchini or cheese, which (surprise!) was the ingredient first used to make the pancake.
South Orange resident Shannon Sarna, editor of The Nosher, a Jewish food website and author of "The Modern Jewish Baker" among other books, reports that the latke originated in Italy and was made with ricotta. Eastern European Jews replaced the cheese with potatoes in the mid 18th century. "The cheese latke predates the potato latke," she said.
Today, of course, the thin-ish golden-brown potato fritter is the quintessential, best-known food of Hanukkah.
"We sell them by the thousands," said Avi Friede, owner of The Kosher Nosh restaurant in Glen Rock and a Paramus resident. "About 7,000 for the holidays."
Natalie Lee, chef-owner of Mikki & Al's Noshery in Montclair, expects to sell many too. "I honestly think people order them a lot because of the mess they make," she said. "All that splatter from the frying."
Where to get them:
The Kosher Nosh, 894 Prospect St, Glen Rock; 201-445-1186, koshernosh.com.
Harold's NY Deli, 10 Polito Ave., Lyndhurst; 201-935-2600, haroldnydelilyndhurst.com.
Mikki & Al's Noshery, 14 Park St., Montclair; 973-744-7100, www.mikkiandals.com. (Offers standard potato, and for the holidays, sweet potato latkes.)
Snaps Kosher, Westgate Plaza, 84 Hillside Blvd., Lakewood; 732-370-4745, snapskosher.com. (Offers three types: standard, sweet potato pastrami latke, and a humongous $100 latke that helps fund a charity.)
Town Hall Deli, 74 First St., South Orange; 973-762-4900, townhalldeli.com.
You don't have to be Jewish to love sufganiyot, delicious puffs of jelly-filled donuts that are a Hanukkah staple.
Meny Vaknin, chef-owner of Marcel Bakery & Restaurant in Montclair, is a huge fan.
"Sufganiyot have a specific flavor that other donuts don’t have," he said. "I can't explain it, but it's similar to Italian zeppole. The dough, because it's fermented, has a slight sour taste and the sweet jelly compliments it. It's sweet and savory at the same time."
Tomer Zilkha of Patisserie Florentine in Englewood, Closter and Hackensack, makes them twice a day during the holiday. "The staling process is very quick," he explained. "It needs to be out of the oil for no more than four hours."
Zilkah sells between 8,000 and 10,000 during the holiday. He expects to sell even more this holiday season because of his new kiosk in The Shops at Riverside in Hackensack.
Zilkah added, "Zufganiyot are not your Dunkin' Donuts cake dough. It's a yeast dough, a very squishy, pillow-light donut."
Where to get them:
Patisserie Florentine, 10 S. Dean St., Englewood, 201-408-4890; 242 Closter Dock Road, 201-660 8296; 390 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack, hpatisserieflorentine.com. (Offerings include raspberry, dulce de leche, Nutella and vanilla custard.)
Zaides, 19-09 Fair Lawn Ave., Fair Lawn; 201-796-6565, zadiesbakeshop.com. (Two flavors: raspberry jelly and vanilla custard with chocolate glaze.)
Marcel Bakery & Kitchen, 631½ Valley Road, Montclair, 973-842-4088, marcelbakeryandkitchen.com. (Raspberry only.)
Cafe Angelique, 1 Piermont Road, Tenafly; 201-541-1010, cafeangeliquenyc.com. (Jelly and custard)
Butterflake, 448 Cedar Lane, Teaneck; 201-836-3516, butterflake.com.
Liv's Breads 184 Essex St., Millburn; 973-218-6922, livbreads.com. (Strawberry and Nutella)
Breads Bakery, 18 E. 16th St., 212-633-2253 and 1890 Broadway, 212-633-2253, both Manhattan; breadsbakery.com. (Not in North Jersey but the bakery ships and flavors include coconut lime and yuzu basil-infused custard.)
Shhh. Don't tell anyone but brisket is not a traditional Hanukkah dish. After all, it's not fried.
Besides, Sarna of The Nosher said: "Hanukkah is not a big feast holiday. It isn't one focused on a meal so traditionally there wasn't a protein."
But as much as Jews may like tradition, they apparently like brisket even more.
"American-Jewish families don’t have lots of opportunities to make things that are special to them, like brisket," Sarna said.
Sarna likens Jews adding brisket to the Hanukkah table to Italians adding ziti or Filipinos adding a big roasted pork to their Thanksgiving tables. It may not be traditional but it's the culture's beloved foods.
So bring on the brisket for the Festival of Lights.
"We usually slice our brisket for sandwiches," said Friede of The Kosher Nosh. "But for the holiday, the shop sells it by the pound.
Where to get it:
Mikki & Al's, Montclair, 14 Park St., Montclair; 973-744-7100, mikkiandals.com. ($26/pound with homemade gravy)
The Kosher Nosh, 894 Prospect S.t, Glen Rock, 201-445-1186, koshernosh.com. ($35/pound with gravy)
Tenafly Kosher Deli, 22 Washington Ave., Tenafly; 201-567-3033, facebook.com/tenaflykosher. ($64.95/2 pounds with gravy)
Grand & Essex Market, 89 New Bridge Road, Bergenfield; 201-244-9955, grandandessex.com. ($26.99/pound with gravy; $29.99/pound homestyle; $34.99 smoked).
Kimchi Smoke Barbecue, 301 Center Ave., Westwood; 201-497-6333, kimchismoke.com. (Smoked, $36/pound; not kosher)
Rather make it yourself?
Here is Lakewood resident Blanche Rosenberg's brisket recipe. Her granddaughter Jaime Walters maintains that it is the best and easiest recipe for the meat dish.
Grandma Blanche’s Brisket
1 large can ShopRite tomato sauce*
2½ - 3 pounds brisket
1 packet of onion soup
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Line bottom of pan (or slow cooker) with the tomato sauce, just enough to line bottom.
Rub onion soup contents on both sides of meat; then place in pan.
Pour rest of sauce over meat.
Fill half of sauce can with water and pour over meat.
Seal tight with tinfoil and cook in oven for at least 2 hours until tender. If using slow cooker, cook on high for 6 hours.
Serves: 8 to 10
*Jaime Walters has tried other tomato sauces and maintains "this one has the best outcome and flavor."
Giving gelt (Yiddish for money) has been a tradition for some four centuries. It was a way for parents to show their appreciation to their kids' teachers and over time their kids too.
Enter capitalism. Chocolate producers, seeing an opportunity to make real gelt, began to produce chocolate gelt. They wrapped the thin quarter-sized disks in gold or silver foil, and sold a good handful in pouches that resemble money bags. That tradition keeps going on.
Where to get: Just about every supermarket and kosher grocery store.
Esther Davidowitz is the food editor for NorthJersey.com. For more on where to dine and drink, please subscribe today and sign up for our North Jersey Eats newsletter.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Hanukkah food: 5 dishes you don't want to miss this year