4 Festive Hanukkah Dinner Menus, Traditional and Not-So-Traditional
Whatever kind of celebration your family is planning, you'll find ideas for Hanukkah menus that respect the past with a contemporary twist
Photograph by Olga Ivanova
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?
What is a traditional Hanukkah dinner?
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 dinner recipes are on the heavier side, I like to keep Hanukkah appetizers light, nothing more than crudités and hummus, and I always make sure to include side dishes with plenty of veggies, like Brussels sprouts, zucchini, or green beans. We end the meal with smallish sugar-coated jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot, an Israeli Hanukkah dessert 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 menu ideas
A holiday that lasts for eight nights gives you plenty of opportunities for celebrations big and small. Whether you’re following Hanukkah meal traditions or blazing a whole new path, these ideas for Hanukkah dinner will help you have a chag sameach!
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Menu 1: A traditional Hanukkah dinner when it’s just the family
While we'll be gathering with extended family and friends a few times, most nights it’ll be just my nuclear family of three for dinner. For the first evening, I’m planning a greatest-hits menu, full of traditional Hanukkah food.
No Jewish celebration has ever gone wrong with a classic slow-braised brisket. Plenty of fresh herbs plus a few surprising ingredients (like red wine vinegar and ketchup) 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 fritter-like, 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. No instant pot? Make applesauce in the slow cooker.
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.
Menu 2: Shabbat dinner with a perfect Hanukkah chicken recipe
Since the holiday lasts eight nights, you're guaranteed to have at least one night fall on a Friday, our Sabbath. My family usually gathers with my brothers’ families and my dad to light candles, say the blessings over challah and wine, and eat a Hanukkah dinner together. Between dinner and dessert, we’ll also play a few rounds of dreidel. At 15 my kid is the youngest family member, so theoretically we've outgrown the game — but who can say no to spinning a top for chocolate gelt?
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, and that lemon vinaigrette is super-simple but also perfect.
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 zest-filled dough. I’ll decorate them in blue, white, and silver, of course (any excuse to bust out the sparkly sugars).
Menu 3: A vegan Hanukkah party
Brisket is meat, obviously, and latkes and sufganiyot both have eggs. But that shouldn’t keep vegan friends and family from celebrating a fun, lighthearted holiday. This vegetarian Hanukkah menu offers plenty of traditional flavors, but the Hanukkah dinner recipes are entirely plant-based.
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.
Soy milk and vegan butter are all you need to create jelly doughnuts without any animal products. A tart raspberry jam filling would be right up my alley.
Menu 4: A Hanukkah picnic with fried chicken and sufganiyot
The weather’s been so volatile lately, it’s entirely possible we’ll have a warm enough day for an outdoor celebration here in New York. If you’re lucky to live in a warm climate year-round, this Hanukkah party is for you.
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 main Hanukkah 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.