Hanukkah holds special meaning for me because I was born on the fifth night. Growing up, “Haneirot Halalu” (sung after lighting the menorah) would always segue into “Happy Birthday to You,” and I would blush with embarrassment as the attention was turned to me.

When I was 13 years old, my brother, Ari Halberstam, was killed in a terrorist attack on the Brooklyn Bridge simply for being Jewish. On my 14th birthday, I stood in the courtroom as the Lebanese-born terrorist was convicted of one count of murder, 14 counts of attempted murder and one count of criminal use of a firearm. He was sentenced to 141 years to life in prison.

Each night of Hanukkah, as I kindle the menorah, I think of how grateful I am to have the opportunity to spread the light of our beautiful heritage through my platform. Every holiday recipe that I share is a means to celebrate our Jewishness with pride and gather families around the table, spreading joy and brightness to the world. I can think of no better way to honor my brother Ari’s legacy.

Hanukkah celebrates the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks, so I decided to put a fun spin on the classic Greek dish spanakopita. Spanakopita is a spinach and feta pie, made with layers of phyllo dough, which can be difficult to work with. Here, I use kataifi, a shredded phyllo dough, as the crust, and form the spinach filling into balls, frying them up in olive oil for the perfect Hanukkah party bite.

Spanakopita Poppers

Yields 25 poppers


  • 5 ounces kataifi pastry, thawed
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 20 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 8 ounces crumbled feta cheese (1½ cups)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped dill
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs
  • 3 extra-large eggs, beaten
  • Extra-light olive oil, for frying


  1. Place the kataifi pastry in the bowl of a food processor with the S blade attached and pulse until chopped into small bits. Alternatively, cut the pastry with kitchen scissors. Transfer the pastry to a shallow bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a small skillet and add the onion, garlic and scallions. Sauté until softened but not browned.
  3. In a mixing bowl, combine the onion mixture with the spinach, feta, dill, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate. Add in the breadcrumbs and eggs and mix to combine. Form the mixture into 2-tablespoon portions and roll into balls.
  4. Fill a deep saucepan with 3 inches of oil. Heat oil to 350 degrees over medium-high heat.
  5. Working in batches, dip the spinach balls into the kataifi and fry a few balls at a time until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Transfer to a baking rack to cool. Serve warm with tzatziki dip (see recipe below).

Tzatziki Dip


  • 1 English cucumber
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  1. Slice the cucumber in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Grate the cucumber with a box grater and drain on paper towels.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the cucumber with the remaining ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper.