The feast of Hanukkah (this year from the night of Dec. 15 to the evening of Dec. 23) commemorates a historic event -- the rekindling of the eternal light in the holy temple in Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago.

At that time the Syrians, who controlled Israel, wanted to force the Jews to give up their belief in one god. The Jews rebelled against them and managed to drive them out of Jerusalem. In order to relight the temple light, the Jews needed ritually pure oil but could find enough for only one day. Miraculously the small amount of oil lasted for eight days.

For this reason, the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights and is celebrated by lighting colorful candles in a menorah, or special candelabrum. Today the holiday is a reminder of the importance of religious freedom, which cannot be taken for granted even in modern times.

Food customs of Hanukkah also recall the miracle of the oil. The traditional holiday dishes, such as latkes, or potato pancakes, are made from foods that are fried or saute'ed in oil. The remaining dishes served for the holiday are usually family favorites of the season and vary from one country to another. Apples are popular, both in desserts and as applesauce to accompany the latkes. Roast chicken, goose or duck are often served, either on the first night of Hanukkah or on the Saturday that falls during the holiday week.

Hanukkah is a time for celebration, rather than religious solemnity. Around the world, family and friends get together for relaxed dinners or casual, buffet-style parties. The children play special Hanukkah games and often receive gifts or coins made of chocolate.

The following menu is composed of dishes that are easy to prepare and are ideal for serving as a Hanukkah buffet dinner or party. CHOPPED LIVER WITH EGGPLANT (8 to 10 servings)

Eggplant gives this version of chopped liver a lighter texture. For a colorful, fresh appetizer, the chopped liver can be spread on slices of cucumber instead of the usual bread or crackers.

1 medium eggplant (1 to 1 1/4 pounds)

9 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium onions, chopped

1 pound chicken livers

Salt and pepper to taste

6 hard-cooked eggs (2 quartered for garnish) Sprigs of fresh parsley for garnish

Fresh bread or crackers for serving

Peel the eggplant, halve it lengthwise, and cut it in thin slices. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet, add about one third of the eggplant slices and saute' over medium-high heat about 1 minute on each side, or until they begin to brown. Cover and cook over low heat about 5 minutes, or until very tender. Remove and repeat with the remaining eggplant in 2 batches, adding 2 tablespoons oil to the skillet each time.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and saute' over medium-low heat about 15 minutes, or until very tender and light brown. Add the livers, salt and pepper and fry over high heat, tossing and stirring constantly, about 7 minutes or until tender. Grind half the onions, liver, eggplant and eggs in a blender or food processor until fairly fine but not too pure'ed. Remove and repeat with the remaining ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving, or up to 3 days.

To serve, spoon into a bowl and garnish with hard-cooked eggs and parsley sprigs. Serve cold or at room temperature, accompanied by fresh bread or crackers.

MEDITERRANEAN VEGETABLE SALAD (4 servings)

In Israel this salad is a favorite at buffets and family dinners.

1 cucumber

1 red or green bell pepper

3 ripe tomatoes

1 scallion

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Peel the cucumber. Remove the seeds and ribs from the pepper.

Cut the cucumber, pepper and tomatoes into very small dice and combine them in a bowl. Slice or chop the scallion and add it. Add the parsley, lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper. Toss gently and taste for seasoning. Serve cold or at room temperature.

SPICY CHICKEN WITH ORANGES AND WHITE WINE (4 servings)

This is an example of the new cuisine which is developing in Israel, a combination of Western techniques, Israeli fruit and the popular Middle Eastern spices. The chicken is fragrant from the spices but is not hot. Serve it with rice or with latkes.

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pinch cayenne pepper

3 1/2-pound chicken, cut into serving pieces

1 onion, cut in thin slices

1 small carrot, cut in thin slices

1 celery stalk, cut in thin slices

1 cup fresh orange juice

1 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/3 cup dark raisins (optional)

2 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons potato starch or cornstarch

2 oranges, divided in neat segments, with any escaped juice reserved

Mix the cumin, paprika, salt and cayenne pepper and rub the mixture thoroughly into the chicken pieces. Put them in a large bowl and add the onion, carrot, celery, orange juice and wine. Cover and let stand for 1 hour at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

Pat the chicken pieces as dry as possible, reserving their marinade. Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet, add the chicken in batches and saute' over medium-high heat until brown on each side. Transfer the chicken to a shallow baking dish. Discard the fat from the skillet. Add the marinade with the vegetables to the skillet and bring to a boil, stirring.

Pour the mixture over the chicken, cover, and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 more minutes or until tender. Remove the chicken; strain the cooking juices into a saucepan. Return the chicken to the baking dish, cover and keep warm.

Add the raisins and any juice that escaped from the orange segments to the cooking juices and boil until the raisins are tender and the sauce is concentrated and well flavored. Whisk the water into the potato starch to form a smooth mixture. Add to the simmering sauce, stirring, and bring just back to a boil. Taste for seasoning. Add the orange segments, heat over low heat a few seconds, and pour the sauce with the raisins and oranges over the chicken.

POTATO LATKES (Potato Pancakes) (Makes about 15 pancakes, to serve 4 to 5)

Crisp potato pancakes are easy to make by grating the potatoes and the onions in a food processor. When the pancakes are served on their own, they are sprinkled with sugar or accompanied by applesauce. They can also be served with meat or chicken and in this case, the sugar and applesauce are omitted. If serving them with a meatless meal, they can be topped with sour cream.

Potato pancakes can be prepared ahead and refrigerated or frozen on a cookie sheet; when frozen, they can be transferred to a bag. They can be reheated (after being slightly defrosted, if they were frozen) on a cookie sheet in a 450-degree oven for a few minutes.

4 boiling potatoes (about 1 1/4 pounds), peeled

1 medium onion (about 1/2 pound)

1 egg

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup vegetable oil, approximately

Applesauce or sugar for serving (optional)

Grate the potatoes and onion, using the grating disc of a food processor or the large holes of a grater. Transfer them to a colander. Squeeze the mixture to press out as much liquid as possible. Transfer to a bowl. Add the egg, parsley, salt, pepper, flour and baking powder.

Heat 1/2 cup oil in a large, deep, heavy skillet. For each pancake, drop about 2 tablespoons of potato mixture into the pan. Flatten with the back of a spoon so each cake is about 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter. Fry over moderate heat about 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and crisp. Turn very carefully so the oil doesn't splatter. Drain on paper towels. Stir the potato mixture before frying each new batch. If all the oil is absorbed, add a little more to the pan.

Serve hot, accompanied by applesauce or sugar, if desired.

APPLE CAKE WITH PECANS AND CINNAMON (16 to 20 servings)

Diced apples flavor this cake and sliced apples are arranged on top and glazed with sugar and cinnamon, making an attractive pattern as for a tart. Use tart apples like pippin, or medium-tart ones like mcintosh, jonathan or rome beauty.

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 pounds apples, peeled, halved, cored and diced

1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

FOR THE CAKE BATTER:

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7 ounces) unsalted nondairy margarine (or butter, for meatless meals)

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

FOR THE TOPPING:

2 large apples (about 1 pound)

2 tablespoons melted, unsalted nondairy margarine (or butter, for meatless meals)

7 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

To prepare the apple mixture: Mix the cinnamon and sugar. Add the apples and let stand for 1/2 hour.

To prepare the batter: Beat the margarine until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift the flour with the baking powder and stir into the egg mixture.

Stir in the apple mixture and the pecans. Spread in a greased 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish. Smooth the top.

To prepare the topping: Peel, halve and core the apples and cut them in thin crosswise slices. Lay the slices in overlapping rows to cover the cake completely. Brush them with the melted margarine. Mix the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the top. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 1 hour or until the apples are very tender. Cool in the pan on a rack. The cake can be kept for a day at room temperature or 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.

To serve, cut the cake in squares. Serve at room temperature.