By Lauren Levine
When I think “Chanukah party,” I picture kids sitting around the floor trying to make a game of dreidel last for more than 30 minutes, while adults munch on greasy latkes, debating whether Bubbe’s latkes would taste better with three onions rather than two. Can’t we do better than that? This year, I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands and reinvent the Chanukah party for 21st-century tastes.
Latkes, latkes, latkes. It’s what always comes to mind when you think of Chanukah. Yes, they are delicious, but they also are not very much fun. I can do about one meal’s worth of latkes before I feel as though I have been inundated in starch and fried in oil. Latke enthusiasts, don’t worry—I’m not suggesting you forsake the age-old Ashkenazi tradition. I’m merely going to suggest you spice it up.
Traditionally, we eat our latkes plain, with applesauce or with sour cream. But why stop there? Let’s take a page from foodie culture and give creativity free rein. At your latke party, you can ask each guest to bring a topping. Offer suggestions, like spicy Buffalo sauce, Asian hoisin sauce, homemade basil pesto, fresh tzatziki or guacamole. Load up your serving table with six to twelve bowls (make them blue for good measure), and you have yourself a toppings bar for latkes. Better yet, when the toppings become the focal point of the meal, the taste of the latkes is less important. You could even (note: someone should cover Bubbe’s ears) buy them frozen from a grocery store like Trader Joe’s and bake them instead of frying them.
Why stop at latkes? The tradition behind the latke is the oil, not the potato. In fact, Chanukah pancakes in Central and Eastern Europe were made with a soft cheese, such as pot cheese. Sure, we have sufganiyot (Israeli jelly doughnuts), but you can get a reasonable facsimile of those any day at your nearest Dunkin’ Donuts. Once you have your oil hot, you might as well keep frying. Whip up some instant pancake batter, dip anything you’d like into it and let it fry! I recommend Oreos (or any candy, for that matter) and string cheese (no-mess mozzarella sticks). To put a Jewish/Southern spin on your fry-fest, try frying up pickle spears or even some green tomato slices.
Since the most famous Chanukah song for kids of all ages is about making your own dreidel, you can’t talk about a Chanukah party without mentioning games. Even when I was 5 years old, I was pretty sure dreidel was one of the most boring games ever invented. Sure, it’s tradition. Thousands of years ago, Jews would spin a top to distract Romans from thinking they were studying Torah. Maybe the Romans thought there was more to the game than meets the eye, because there’s nothing about spinning a top that can keep you entertained for more than 10 minutes. Luckily, Jews before me have taken on the task of reinventing dreidel. For young kids, try Pin the Flame on the Menorah or a version of Make Your Own Dreidel like this one. For older kids and adults, I recommend No Limit Texas Dreidel, Major League Dreidel and Staccabees. Dreidel is a Jewish tradition not to be forgotten, but there’s no reason we can’t make it more fun!
Add a little Carrie Bradshaw to your trendy new Chanukah party with themed cocktails. While the kids are playing dreidel, whip up one or two (or all) of these concoctions, and your guests will surely be impressed. All recipes were created by Melissa Levine (lawyer by day and bartender by night in Boston). Amounts are for individual drinks.
Dreidel Punch (Sure to Make You Spin!)
Rose’s Lime Juice (or another similar brand)
Pour ½ ounce of grenadine into a pint glass filled with ice. In a separate ice-filled shaker, mix 1 ounce of rum, ½ ounce of triple sec, and a splash each of orange juice, pineapple juice and lime juice. Shake and strain into the glass with grenadine. Fill glass to the top with a dark rum. Makes one serving. This can also be made by the pitcher using the same proportions.
Manischewitz concord grape wine
Shake together 3 ounces of wine, ½ ounce bourbon, and juice from one slice each of lemon, lime and orange. Pour in a highball glass. Garnish with fruit. Makes one serving.
Don't Let the Lights Go Out
Bailey’s Irish Cream
Pour 2 ounces of Kahlua into a martini glass. Using a spoon, gently pour an ounce of Bailey’s as a layer on top of the Kahlua. Then spoon on a layer of ½-1 ounce of chilled coffee or espresso. Warm ½ ounce of Cointreau (microwave is fine). Pour carefully onto spoon and light on fire. Pour on top of martini. Let fire burn out before drinking!
Godiva chocolate liqueur (or similar brand)
Crème de cacao
Combine 2 ounces of chocolate liqueur, 1 ounce of crème de cacao and 1 ounce of vodka. Stir and garnish with a piece of gelt. Feel no remorse. Makes one serving.
Lauren Levine is a Jewish Women International staff member. She graduated in May 2011 from Tufts University.