Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, features many traditions: Candles glow on the menorah, families gamble with gelt (chocolate coins) in the game of dreidel, and celebrants fry latkes (potato pancakes) and savor sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts). Like at Christmas, there are holiday parties, gifts, and gatherings of loved ones. And for some, a newer Hanukkah tradition is becoming part of the scene: infusing the holiday spirit with cannabis.
Philip Gelb - a vegan chef in Northern California and owner of the catering company Sound and Savor - has hosted cannabis and food pairing events for the last three years in West Oakland. On December 2, the first night of the eight-day festival, he presented Light Up for Chanukkah (an alternate spelling).
As guests walked in the door, they were handed a vaporizer by grower Joseph Snow of Snowtill Gardens. “We started with perky sativas in the first two courses to promote conversation,” Chef Gelb told Civilized. “The place was buzzing right away, literally and figuratively.”
Latkes, of course, were the main dish on the menu. These potato pancakes are fried in oil and often served with applesauce and sour cream. The tradition of eating fried foods for Hanukkah draws from the story behind the festival.
In the 2nd century B.C.E., the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was desecrated by the army of Antiochus Epiphanes, who tried to coerce Jews to assimilate to the Greek way of life — first by outlawing Jewish customs and practices, and then by force. Against the odds, Jewish Maccabee rebels fought for three years and eventually drove the invading army out. Jews seeking to rededicate the temple found oil to light a lamp for only one night, but it’s said that the oil burned for eight instead. Thus, eight nights, and eight candles on the menorah, make up the Festival of Light and commemorate the miracle of Hanukkah (which means "dedication").
“Of all the Jewish festivals it seemed like this is the most logical one to pair with marijuana. The idea of lighting something up is already part of Hanukkah,” said Chef Gelb, who used a joint to light the menorah. At Sunday's event, he curated the menu so that each dish would complement specific cannabis terpenes (aromatic compounds): One menu suggestion, for example, paired vegan latkes with yuzu applesauce to a vaporizer toke of fruity Strawberry Banana from Snowtill Gardens. Other courses featured traditional Jewish foods that Gelb learned to cook from his grandmother, but this time with a vegan twist. Borscht (a puréed beet, celery and parsnip soup served warm in winter) was paired with the strain Sour Patch Kids, while cabbage rolls stuffed with bean-mushroom-nut balls and a jackfruit vegan brisket were offered along with a hit of the hybrid, OGmatic. For dessert, a deeply relaxing indica strain called Forbidden Fruit complemented cashew ice cream.
While some may prefer more traditional versions of Jewish holiday foods which, in addition to latkes, include beef brisket and matzoh ball soup, others may choose to celebrate Hanukkah by infusing these dishes with cannabis concentrates, or by cooking them with cannabutter.
"I felt funny and I couldn’t stop laughing / How you like those latkes? my friend kept asking / But I couldn’t really talk, I could only dance / I was stuck in a Hanukkah cannabis trance / Visions of Maccabees danced in my head / When that one night of oil lasted eight nights instead / I was straight up trippin’ on the Hanukkah miracle / I was so damn high I felt practically Biblical"
Edibles may seem to work miracles, like in Flow's song, but when not dosed properly, they can also be tricky and one can get uncomfortably high by accident. That's why Gelb says prefers to pair his dishes with vaporizable strains, rather than to infuse the food directly.
So whether you choose to blaze it up, bring along your vaporizer, or eat your way to bliss, Hanukkah is for celebrating light and warmth as the days shorten, and for spending time with loved ones. MC Flow thinks “Pot in the Latkes” is a fan favorite because it’s funny, bringing in both stoner humor and Jewish humor. But, she told Civilized, people also like the song because it’s about how the holidays have meaning beyond material wish lists. "So yea, I love the holidays," she said. "Positive thoughts. Friends and family. Good vibes… and put pot in your latkes.”
Chef Gelb’s Latke Recipe
3 large russets
1 sheet matzah, crumbled
1/4 cup mashed, raw Yama-imo (Japanese mountain potato)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Oil for frying
Peel and grate potatoes. Press water out of the potato and drain well. Grate onion and mash or pulverize Yama-imo and add to the potato. Mix well, add matzah and salt and pepper.
Fry spoonfuls in hot oil till golden brown, turning only once.
Serve hot out of the fryer with homemade applesauce!
This recipe has been abridged from Chef Philip Gelb’s cookbook, Notes from An Underground Restaurant: Improvisations Through Food and Music. To infuse this dish, he recommends adding cannabis extract to the applesauce — the recipe is found in his second book, Vegan Underground. Or, he says, you could drizzle cannabis infused oil over the latkes once they are plated.
Photo courtesy of Hannah Kaminsky