The Biggest Hanukkah Traditions at Chef Cat Cora’s House

The Iron Chef and mom of six shares her favorite Hanukkah traditions, including her secrets to the perfect latke.

Perhaps best known as the first female Iron Chef on Food Network’s Iron Chef America, Cat Cora is also a world-renowned chef, author, restaurateur (she’s opened more 18 restaurants worldwide), philanthropist and host of BRAVO’s Around the World in 80 Plates and FOX’s My Kitchen Rules.

If that didn’t keep her busy enough, she’s a newlywed—she married producer Nicole Ehrlich in April—and the couple has six kids between them, all boys. Needless to say, this Hanukkah will be extra festive…and extra loud.

We asked her to tell us her favorite Hanukkah tradition and share the secrets to recreating one of her yummiest Hanukkah dishes at home. (For even more Hanukkah recipe ideas, check out our collection of 100 Hanukkah favorites here.)

Cat Cora and familyCat Cora

Taste of Home: What is your favorite recipe to make during Hanukkah? Why is it special to you?

Cat Cora: I love making matzo meal pancakes with my wife and mother-in-law. We can barely get any on the plate with our six boys grabbing them up before they hit the plate to cool. It’s a great bonding time for us.

Another recipe I hold dear to my heart is matzo balls. My wife’s mother, grandmother and great-grandmother made them with her when she was a child. We now make them with our six boys, a tradition I hope they pass along to their children.

TOH: It’s the first Hanukkah for you and Nicole as a married couple. Are you planning on beginning any new Hanukkah traditions with your family of eight?

CC: This is my third Hanukkah with Nicole and our first as newlyweds, and we always create new traditions. We are in the planning stages of Hanukkah, so we like to be spontaneous— surprise traditions seem to pop up.

One tradition we’ve created is, every year we put up a Hanukkah bush and decorate it together as a family. We go to Color Me Mine and each of us makes our own ornaments to put on the bush. We also always have eight days of presents for the entire family and a lot of Hanukkah gelt. There always seems to be something special that sticks with us each year.

TOH: What are your kids’ most-requested foods during the holiday?

CC: My matzo ball soup is pretty amazing, so they love that. My wife loves my brisket and the boys gobble it up. We all pitch in to make all the trimmings like matzoh meal pancakes and latkes. We also love sweet noodle kugel and three different challahs—pretzel, chocolate chip and traditional. These are all family recipes, the majority are from Grandmother Marlyn and Grandma Ann. The delicious challah is our cousin Michael’s recipe.

(Curious about challah? Here’s the scoop.)

TOH: Are there any traditional Hanukkah foods that you’ve made your own in some way?

CC: I make really good sweet potato latkes. (See the recipe below.)

TOH: Do you think food around the holidays should be fancier, or do you prefer dishes to feel more homey and rustic at this time of year?

CC: I really love to make foods that remind my wife of her grandmothers. If I can pull that off I feel like a hero! The holidays are truly where we form our memories and make traditions as a family, so we like to make sure everything is extra special. From using both of our grandmothers’ china and tablecloths to decorating our Hanukkah bush and cooking as a family, everything has an extra touch of fanciness added to it.

Cat Cora’s Sweet Potato and Scallion Latkes

Latke is the Yiddish word for “small pancake.” These yummy treats are a traditional Hanukkah dish usually made out of shredded potatoes combined with eggs and fried in oil to celebrate the Hanukkah miracle involving the oil of the menorah lasting for eight days. They’re often served with applesauce and sour cream. We asked Cat to share her take on sweet potato latkes with us. Here’s how you make them.

(If you like sweet potatoes, you have to try tzimmes, too!)

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
  • 2 large eggs beaten
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • About 1/2 cup of vegetable oil for frying
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or scallions for garnish, or 1/2 cup creme fraiche and 1/3 pound smoked trout

Step 1: Prep Your Potatoes

Grate the sweet potatoes. (Here’s a tip for freezing grated potatoes ahead of time.)

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, flour, salt and pepper. Add the sweet potatoes and the scallions and mix until the potatoes are well coated.

Step 2: Flatten and Fry

Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the oil is hot but not smoking. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the potato mixture into the oil and flatten with a spatula to about 3 inches in diameter. Repeat, adding 2 to 4 more latkes and more oil as needed. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until golden, about 2 minutes on each side.

Cat’s tip: Don’t crowd the pan or the latkes won’t crisp up.

Step 3: Keep Warm Until Ready to Eat

With a spatula transfer the latkes to a plate covered with a paper towel to drain, then transfer to an ovenproof platter and keep warm in a 300º oven. Garnish with fresh chives or creme fraiche and smoked trout.

Whip up some scrumptious rugelach for dessert
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Amanda Kippert
Amanda Kippert has been an award-winning freelance journalist for nearly two decades. She is based in Tucson, Arizona and specializes in food, health, fitness, parenting and humor, as well as social issues. She is the content editor of the domestic violence nonprofit DomesticShelters.org.