Classic Recipes and Traditions of Hanukkah

Cary, NC — For years, At-Large Town Council Member Lori Bush has been a champion for the representation and celebration of the Jewish community in Cary.

Because of this, we asked if she would share some of the family recipes and traditions she holds dear during Hanukkah. Lucky for us and our readers, she and her mother, Carleen Dubin put together the following recipes and stories.

Foods Linked to Jewish Holidays

It’s Hanukkah, and if you know anything about the holiday, it’s likely you know two things.

  1. There is the lighting of the Menorah (An 8 candle candelabra, that we light for 8 nights)
  2. Someone is cooking Latkes

If you’re Jewish or if you have a Jewish friend or family member, you probably know that most of the traditions associated with Jewish holidays are linked to food. In fact, I can’t think of a single Jewish Holiday that doesn’t have a specific food associated with it — and Hanukkah is no exception.

Our Hanukkah Must-Haves

For our family at Hanukkah, the menu has been Brisket, Latkes, Matzo Ball Soup, a Kugel and Kasha and Shells (also called Kasha varnishkes). Oh, and you can’t forget the Jelly Donuts for dessert.

(Yeah, I know, not a lot of vegetables in that meal.)


The brisket is a work of art — truly.

Normally cooked for hours on end, the meat falls apart when it’s served. My mother has a trick. She cooks the brisket the week before, freezes it and then thaws it and warms it up that night. 

I always thought she did it to save room in the oven, but it turns out that the flavors really do meld together when given more time. Kind of like how chili is better the second day.

Matzoh Ball Soup

The Matzoh Ball Soup is a Jewish staple – normally served with the homemade chicken broth, and light and fluffy balls of matzoh divine inspiration.  You can use the boxed Matzoh ball mix (don’t use the “soup” packet, trust me on that) and the trick my grandmother taught me is to add a pinch of nutmeg to the mix and to boil the matzoh balls in the boiling soup with the LID ON for 20 min. If they aren’t fluffy, I have no idea why.

Two Time-Honored Recipes: Noodle Kugel & Kasha and Shells

Sweet Noodle Kugel

For this one, it is a preference per family. We like sweet kugel, but others prefer savory — up to you.

This is my mother Carleen’s favorite recipe, which she sometimes doubles altogether and often doubles the topping.

You’ll Need:

  • 12 oz medium egg noodles
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 cups cottage cheese
  • 3 oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup of melted butter
  • 1 cup of sour cream
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla

For Topping:

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs


  1. Cook noodles, drain and set aside
  2. Beat eggs, sugar, cream cheese, cottage cheese, melted butter, sour cream and vanilla together
  3. Grease 9 x 13 pan
  4. Spread noodles on the bottom
  5. Add beaten ingredients to pan
  6. Mix topping and put on top of the other ingredients
  7. Bake 45 min to an hour at 350 degrees

It should NOT be soupy.

Kasha and Shells

My mother has made this for years and I just recently started making it myself. (Watch her demolish a box of groats in the video below!) The key to this is schmaltz. Yes, Schmaltz — rendered chicken fat.  And no, duck fat won’t work. The difference is palpable, trust me on this one.


You’ll Need:

  • 1 box shell pasta or bowtie pasta
  • 1/2 box of kasha (medium groats/buckwheat)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 or 2 onions, diced (about 2 cups)
  • 2 beef cubes/bullion – with water as recipe states (~2 cups)
  • Schmaltz (or butter), but schmaltz is better


  1. Sauté the onions in 3-4 tablespoons of the butter or rendered chicken fat in a heavy frying pan with a cover until golden (almost carmelized) and remove onto a plate
  2. While that’s going, bring a large pot of water to a boil, adding salt to the water
  3. Cook the shell noodles according to the directions on the package, drain and return to the pot
  4. Combine Kasha and the beaten egg in a saucepan
  5. Mix, making sure all the grains are coated, set over a medium to high heat
  6. Flatten, stir and break up the egg-coated kasha with a fork or wooden spoon for 2 to 4 minutes or until the egg has dried on the kasha and the kernels brown and mostly separate
  7. Add the water and bouillon, salt and pepper to the pan and bring to a boil
  8. Cover tightly and cook over low heat, steaming the kasha for about 10 minutes
  9. Remove the cover, stir and quickly check to see if the kernels are tender and the liquid has been absorbed. If not, cover and continue steaming for 3 to 5 minutes more.
  10. Put the cooked Kasha on a jelly roll or sheet pan with edges, spread evenly, and broil in oven for a few minutes until brown and toasted
  11. Take out of the oven, gently flip kasha over, and toast again
  12. Remove from oven and mix the noodles, kasha and onions in large pot, adding salt and pepper to taste

Fried and Festive

And finally, the 2 items on our table that are pure Hanukkah — Latkes and Jelly Donuts. Why these?

Because the story of the miracle of Hanukkah is connected to fried foods. In this case, Latkes, which are potato pancakes, and jelly doughnuts. They are prepared and eaten throughout the holiday to celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah, that oil in the lamp that should have lasted only 1 day, lasted for 8.

Tips for Latke-Making

Latkes – Yiddish for pancake, are served with sour cream and apple sauce.  They aren’t hard to make, but they’re messy. To master Latkes, there are a few key steps to keep in mind.

  • First, your mixture MUST include grated potato AND onion.
  • You need to strain out as much liquid as possible.
  • Make sure to fry in oil to get as crispy as possible.
  • And serve warm.  (We often put them in the oven on warm, just to make sure they stay that way.)

I have to admit, I buy the jelly doughnuts.

Warm Holiday Wishes to All

So, this season, as we eat our fried foods and light our Menorahs, I hope that our collective light drives out the darkness.  I hope you will take the time to try some of these dishes, and that you and yours have a wonderful holiday season.

Story and photos by Lori Bush, Council Member At-Large for the Town of Cary.

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3 replies
  1. Harold L Weinbrecht
    Harold L Weinbrecht says:

    Happy Hanukkah Lori!

    My family and I have had the pleasure of sharing a Hanukkah meal with Lori’s family in the past. The evening was always hosted by one of the most loving persons I have ever met, Carleen Dubin (Lori’s mom). They were always kind enough to explain all the Jewish traditions and share their stories. The food was delicious and I thought the Jelly doughnuts was quite and interesting choice for dessert. I miss you guys! Take care. Love and Peace to you this holiday season!


  2. Lindsey Chester
    Lindsey Chester says:

    I do remember Lori posting this video of her Mom making the Kasha and shells in the past. And I admit it was a Yiddish dish I was unfamiliar with but it sounds delicious! Cheers to you and your family! Hoping next year we can all be together.

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