Give Your Hanukkah Spread a Mexican Spin

Cook like chef Julian Medina and make brisket tacos and whitefish guacamole

Matt Taylor-Gross

Classics from the Jewish canon—smoked fish, brisket, latkes—aren't just good eating. They're also canvases eager to take on other colors and flavors. After all, Hanukkah cooking is pretty straightforward. Meanwhile, Jewish cooking is all about taking on influences from other cultures. Which is why chef Julian Medina of Toloache in New York gives his Hanukkah spread a Mexican spin.

The intersection of these two cuisines is greater than you may think: Jews have been living—and cooking—in Mexico for five hundred years, picking up flavors from local ingredients along the way. Medina, a Catholic-raised, Mexican-born chef of seven restaurants in New York, converted to Judaism and married a Jewish woman in 2004. But his fusion of Jewish and Mexican food started years before that, at Zocalo on the Upper East Side.

"I started playing with brisket for the holidays," Medina says. "In Mexico, we use suadero, which is similar to brisket, and you cook it a similar way." Medina braises his brisket in Mexican beer and adds chipotle, but little more than the addition of tomatillo salsa is needed to turn a Jewish classic into a Mexican staple. From there, Medina realized he could work the flavors of Mexico's pantry into other parts of the Hanukkah spread, and, soon after, a full menu was born. It's since become an annual tradition at his Toloache and Yerba Buena restaurants.

Zocalo is long gone, but Medina's Hanukkah menu, which you can try for yourself at his restaurants this year from December 6th through the 14th, is full of twists and new flavors yet remains true-to-form. And if you want to cook like Medina this Hanukkah, we have all the recipes you need.

Potato Jalapeño Latkes
These are classic latkes, grated potatoes bound with matzo meal and egg, but the simple addition of jalapeño adds a new kick to an old Jewish classic. Medina serves his jalapeno latkes with a tangy, cooling horseradish cream. Get the recipe for Potato Jalapeño Latkes »Matt Taylor-Gross

"Hanukkah is all about fried food," Medina says. "It's not a holiday without it." These are classic latkes, left to their simple nature, but spiced up with a simple modification.

Mexican Ricotta Croquettes

Mexican Ricotta Croquettes
Requeson (Mexican ricotta) and a variety of other Mexican cheeses to make these craveable croquettes. Serve them with a sweet and smoky chipotle-honey salsa. Get the recipe for Mexican Ricotta Croquettes »Matt Taylor-Gross

Medina uses requeson (Mexican ricotta) and a variety of other Mexican cheeses to make these craveable croquettes. The commonplace idea of fried foods at Hanukkah sings loud and clear here, but Medina serves these with a sweet and smoky chipotle-honey salsa to counter the cheesy richness within.

Zucchini Latkes
Zucchini don't have as much starch as potatoes, but they do make great latkes. This recipe from New York chef Julian Medina makes tender fritters with a delicate zucchini bite. "The sauces are where I really add the Mexican flavors," Medina says of the horseradish crema, chipotle-honey, and apple tomatillo salsa that get served on the side. Get the recipe for Zucchini Latkes »Matt Taylor-Gross

In developing his Mexican Hanukkah menu over the years, Medina has found simplicity is what people want on Hanukkah, so he keeps his zucchini latkes basic and subs potatoes for zucchini. "The sauces are where I really add the Mexican flavors," he says of the horseradish crema, chipotle-honey, and apple tomatillo salsa that get served on the side.

Whitefish Guacamole

Whitefish Guacamole
Avocado is an unlikely but delicious pairing for smoked whitefish, and this guacamole is a smokier, creamier spin on classic whitefish salad. Get the recipe for Whitefish Guacamole »Matt Taylor-Gross

"Smoked whitefish is perfect with avocado," Medina says, "so I thought, 'Why not just make guacamole?'" The dish borrows from one similar in the Yucatan, which Medina was there eating when he got the idea. Chipotle adds additional smokiness and a touch of heat.

Brisket Tacos

Brisket Tacos
Rough-chopped and served on fresh, homemade tortillas is New York City chef Julian Medina's way of showcasing brisket. Get the recipe for Brisket Tacos »Matt Taylor-Gross

"The first night you're with your relatives, your mother or grandmother's house for brisket," Medina says. "But the following nights you're tired of it." That's where Medina's brisket tacos come in. "People love these tacos," Medina says. So much so they've made it onto the menu year-round.