As a kid, I never understood why latkes were traditional on Hanukkah.
Hanukkah honors Judah and his Maccabees who, back in 165 BC, revolted against the ruling Greeks, who had all but outlawed Judaism. The Maccabees won and took back their temple. To rededicate it, they needed to burn oil for eight days, but they had just one day’s worth. In the miracle of Hanukkah, it lasted eight.
In no part of the story did the Maccabees eat potato pancakes. I must have been a teenager when I found out that the oil the latkes were fried in was symbolic of the oil that lasted eight days.
So, if anything with oil is fair game, why go with latkes? If I’m thinking oil and potatoes, I’m voting for French fries. Or ditch the potatoes altogether—they were unknown in the Middle East until after Columbus.
I think we need a new Hanukkah food, and I don’t see any reason to leave the region where the miracle happened, since it’s the region that gives us good things like oranges and figs, as well as the source of the best oil on the planet—olives. And it’s a small kind of miracle that, together, they make a wonderful cake. Here's the recipe, plus five more to make your Festival of Lights extras special this year.
—By Tamar Haspel