Oh, it’s (latke) frying time again—but it doesn’t have to be

Gone are the days when the Chanukah holiday meant an eight-day binge fest of all things fried.

The Festival of Lights, which commemorates the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks, has a longstanding tradition of oily foods such as latkes and donuts in remembrance of the miracle of the temple oil, which lasted eight days instead of the expected one. But for some, the holiday has become an excuse to inhale fried potato pancakes and custard-filled pastry.

“People have a misconception of the tradition to fry on Chanukah,” Yosef Silver, the author of the popular blog This American Bite, told JTA. “The concept is to remember the oil, but that doesn’t necessarily mean frying. We’ve gotten so wrapped up with frying, but there are ways to make Chanukah food, like latkes, just using oil.”

These days, with everyone from the first lady on down drawing attention to our widening waistlines, Jewish foodies have plenty of options for consuming traditional holiday fare without packing on the pounds.

Silver was raised on the old way — frying everything. But now he prefers to bake latkes rather than fry them.

“If you prefer to use the traditional potato latke recipe, the best way to make it healthy would be to pan fry it with an oil substitute like Pam,” Silver said. “If you want to incorporate oil, add only a tablespoon and lightly pan-fry it.”

For those who prefer a fried taste, Silver suggests swapping potatoes for healthier vegetables that provide vitamins and nutrition as opposed to starch. 

“My favorite latke variety to make is my variation using rutabaga and turnip,” Silver said. “Rutabaga is a starchy vegetable, but it’s not actually a carb. It gives a similar consistency to potatoes and is delicious.”  

Shaya Klechevsky, a personal chef from Brooklyn who writes the kosher cuisine blog At Your Palate, says there are ways to make healthier donuts, or sufganiyot — also a traditional Chanukah food though one generally more popular in Israel than the United States. But Klechevsky warns about playing too much with recipes. 

“When making the batter, you can use a little bit of whole wheat if you want to veer away from white flour, but you need to be careful because too much whole wheat will turn your donuts into bricks,” Klechevsky said. “You can also substitute sugar with honey.”

Rather than altering the recipe for the dough, Klechevsky says the best way to make healthy donuts is to use healthy fillings, like sugar-free jams, nuts, fruit and granola.

“The best option is to bake donuts rather than fry them,” Klechevsky said. “The taste won't be the same, but it will be close. You can buy little round molds and fill them with batter.”

Erica Lokshin, a wellness dietitian at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, points out that baked donuts have half the calories and one-third the fat of fried.

“Chanukah foods loaded in oil are high in cholesterol, which can be really bad for your heart, and eating them for eight says straight increases risks,” Lokshin said.

Lokshin says that when serving toppings to go with latkes, reduced-fat sour cream and unsweeted applesauce are the best options. And since no one wants to feel deprived around the holidays, she suggests picking one night to indulge.

“It’s better to designate which night of the holiday you will enjoy latkes and donuts, and stick to your regular eating routine on the other nights,” Lokshin said. “Otherwise, you’re picking at a donut here and a latke there, and over an eight-day period you will probably consume more than you hoped you had and it will throw off your eating routine in the long run.

Below are a couple of healthier latkes recipes.

(Shaya Klechevsky)

6 cups coarsely grated peeled carrots
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
7 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
3 large eggs, beaten to blend
Blended olive oil (for frying)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with olive oil, or take a pastry brush dipped in olive oil and lightly coat the foil. Place grated carrots in a large bowl; press with paper towels to absorb any moisture. In another bowl, combine flours, salt, baking powder and pepper, and blend together. Add carrots, ginger and eggs to the flour mixture and combine. Mixture shouldn’t be too wet or too dry. When forming patties, the mixture should stick to itself and not come apart. If it’s too wet, add a little bit more flour; if it’s too dry, add more beaten egg. Allow to stand for 10-12 minutes for ingredients to absorb into each other. Place patties, about 3 1/2-inch rounds, onto the greased baking sheet. Leave a little room around each one. Place tray into middle rack of oven and roast for 10-12 minutes per side, or until golden brown.

Makes about 15 latkes.

(Yosef Silver)

2 rutabaga, shredded
2 turnips, shredded
1 large onion, shredded
1 egg, plus one egg white
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix all the ingredients, then shape the latkes so they are approximately the size of your palm and about 1/4-inch thick. Grease a cookie sheet with olive oil if you want to keep with tradition, or substitute coconut oil for a lighter alternative. Place the latkes on the cookie sheet with space between them. Once the oven has heated, bake the latkes until golden brown.

Women’s Heart Health 101

Surprise, cholesterol isn’t all bad. Your body uses it to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that aid digestion. But that doesn’t mean you should make a run for the turkey bacon. That’s because your body makes all the cholesterol it needs on its own, without any extra-fatty foods eaten by you.

More than half of adults have too much cholesterol flowing around in their bloodstreams, a problem that, frighteningly enough, often carries back to their childhoods. Once your total cholesterol reaches 200 milligrams per deciliter, your risk of heart disease increases. And with it, your risk of death from heart disease — the No. 1 killer of women.

But what you may not have heard is that women are less likely than men to keep their cholesterol under control, the American Heart Association reports. But what does your total number mean exactly?

“We’ve discovered that total cholesterol is a meaningless number, at least for women,” said Dr. Barbara H. Roberts, director of The Women’s Cardiac Center at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I., and author of “How to Keep From Breaking Your Heart: What Every Woman Needs to Know About Cardiovascular Disease.” “That’s because total cholesterol is made up of several blood fats, including LDL [so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol], HDL [so-called ‘good’ cholesterol] and triglycerides. In women, high levels of triglycerides and low levels of HDL are more significant risk factors for atherosclerosis [aka hardening of the arteries] than are high levels of LDL.”

Cholesterol, called plaque, can build up in your arteries, the vessels that carry blood full of oxygen and nutrients from your heart and lungs throughout your entire body. High cholesterol has a negative impact on this healthy travel: it encourages the arteries to narrow and block. LDL, the bad type, causes cholesterol to build up in the blood.

Your goal? Keeping your LDL down.

“To lower your cholesterol the drug-free way, eat a plant-based diet, quit smoking, do lots of aerobic exercise, keep your weight under control and don’t fall for the low-fat diet fad,” Roberts said. “Eating low-fat is counterproductive for women because it lowers your HDL; that is, your good cholesterol.”

How to Make Healthy Cholesterol

Forget low-fat diets, and make room for monounsaturated fats in the foods you eat.

“The best type is olive oil,” Roberts said. “If your HDL is low, you should eat between two to three tablespoons per day — either straight from the spoon or drizzled on salads or cooked vegetables, substituting it for saturated [animal] fats like butter or polyunsaturated fats like corn oil.”

And women actually need more of this healthy cholesterol than men do. The lower limit of normal HDL in women is 50 milligrams per deciliter, while in men it’s only 40 mg/dl.

It’s Good to Be a Girl

If you’ve ever blamed your hormones for tears and moodiness, here’s one thing to say “thank you” for: Estrogen may actually help protect you against heart attacks, says Dr. Robert H. Eckel, spokesman and former president of the American Heart Association. From the time your body starts producing it at puberty until production falls in your mid-50s, you’ll have higher levels of HDL than the men around you. Because women make estrogen and men make androgens, women are less likely to have a heart attack than men are (until they reach menopause, that is, when both estrogen and HDL levels drop).

And the Number Is…

“Once you’ve reached your 20th birthday, your doctor should order a full cholesterol panel,” Roberts said.

This is nothing more than a fasting blood test (you can’t eat or drink anything with calories for 12 hours before), but it shows your doctor crucial numbers for assessing your risk of heart disease: your LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels. If your doctor hasn’t ordered one, go ahead and ask about it yourself. Having a family history of heart disease makes knowing your numbers even more essential.

Take a look at your numbers with your doctor, and set a goal level as to where your LDL should be. If you have no risk of heart disease, yet your cholesterol numbers are less than optimal, your goal should be 160 milligrams per deciliter; if you have more risk factors, such as a family history of heart attacks, your goal should be 130 milligrams per deciliter. And if you already have heart disease, your goal should be 100 milligrams per deciliter at the very highest.

Change Your Lifestyle First

Before you blindly pop the cholesterol-lowering pills your doctor prescribes (likely statins, the go-to med for high cholesterol), consider changing your lifestyle first. According to a study from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, 71 patients who had been prescribed statins to bring their “bad” cholesterol down weren’t eating any more saturated fat six months later, as many medical professionals assumed they might (perhaps counting on the medication to make up for a steak or two). Some patients also said they would have preferred to try lifestyle changes before taking the drugs.

And in many cases, lifestyle changes may be all it takes to make a difference. In a five-year study of 535 premenopausal women, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health found that lifestyle changes, such as exercising and following a healthy high-fiber diet were able to control increases in LDL cholesterol.

As a Last Resort

If your LDL still hasn’t dropped after one month to six weeks of a high-fiber diet it may be time to try statins, Eckel says, but keep in mind that once you start taking them, you’ll probably have to stay on them for life. Before your doctor writes up a prescription, take a test to make sure you don’t have kidney, thyroid or liver disease, all of which can also mimic high cholesterol.

Jenny Stamos writes about health, nutrition, psychology, work, money and love for magazines such as Self, Shape, Glamour, Women’s Health, Prevention and Woman’s Day.

PASSOVER: Yemenite Flavor at the Seder

For me, Yemenite cooking is the taste of home. My parents were born in Sharab, a region in southwest Yemen. I was born in Tel Aviv, and grew up on my mother and father’s traditional cooking. The food in our home was always fresh, simple and richly spiced. On Passover, the fragrance of the traditional chicken soup, full of tumeric and cumin, filled our house, and we looked forward to eating our candy-like charoset, made from dates and walnuts.

I came to America in 1976, and opened Magic Carpet, named after the airlift of Yemenite Jews to Israel, in 1993. The Yemenite food we serve is a warm and constant reminder of my childhood.

Of course, now it turns out it might also be good for you — really good for you.

Yemenite Jews in Israel live longer and healthier lives than other Israelis. Over the years, many researchers have attributed the Yemenite’s good health to the simplicity of their cooking and their use of herbs and spices. Fenugreek, for example, a staple spice in our kitchens, has shown promise in research to treat diabetes and high cholesterol.

Beef, chicken, fish and vegetables require the use of hawa’age, a curry-like spice mixture that consists of turmeric, cumin, coriander and black pepper in proportions that vary from town to town. On top of that, we add fresh garlic, onion, tomatoes and cilantro to many of our dishes. Hilbeh, a viscuous, spicy relish made from freshly ground fenugreek, and schug, a bright green mix of cilantro and chili, are served separately and added to food according to taste. A few meals like this, and you are on your way to a healthy Yemenite life.

Below are traditional Yemenite Passover foods. Some, like chicken soup, we serve in the restaurant. For the rest, you’d have to come to my house.

Baked Eggs

Oven-baked eggs become brown and flavorful, with a creamy texture.

Just cover eggs in water at room temperature. Add salt to minimize cracking. Cover and cook in your oven at low heat (250 F) overnight or at least 12 hours. Serve hot or cold.


This is our version of charoset, which Ashkenazim make from apples, walnuts and wine. We use charoset as jelly on matzah through the holiday.

1 pound dates, pitted and mashed
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 cup raw sesame seeds

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Stir occasionally. Cook for about an hour or until the mixture is thickened to a jelly-like consistency. Serve cold.

Matzah Cereal

This was our breakfast throughout the holiday. What makes it special is the spice mixture.

Break two matzah into small pieces. Pour in 1 1/2 cups of hot milk and one tablespoon of butter, mix with the same spice mix as the charoset. Add honey to your taste.

Yemenite Chicken Soup

We would often serve this by placing broken soaked matzah in our soup bowls, then ladling the broth over it.

One 4-pound chicken cut in quarters
5 quarts water
1 large head garlic
1 large tomato
1 large onion
1 bunch of fresh cilantro
1/3 tablespoon turmeric
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon of coriander
black pepper

Put whole onion, garlic and tomato in the pot of water and bring to a boil. Add chicken pieces and cook for 25 minutes. Add spices and fresh cilantro, peeled tomato and if you like, add some sliced zucchini. Salt and paper to taste. Cook for 25 more minutes.

Nili Goldstein is co-owner of the kosher Yemeni-Israeli Magic Carpet Restaurant, 8566 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-8547.


Health – Pursuing America’s No. 1 Killer

For more times than he can recall, Ken Bouchard has journeyed from Los Angeles to his hometown of Framingham, Mass. There, Bouchard willingly provides blood samples, dons heart monitors and details his eating habits.

While he could easily get a routine physical closer to home, this exam is anything but routine. Bouchard subjects himself to such poking and prodding to further the cause of scientific discovery. Like his 94-year-old mother, Bouchard is a participant in the Framingham Heart Study.

The landmark study, initiated in 1948, set out to observe a large population over time in order to uncover the causes of heart disease. While we take such knowledge for granted today, it was the Framingham Heart Study that helped reveal the role of blood pressure, cholesterol, diet, exercise and smoking in heart disease and stroke. It has generated 1,000 scientific papers and launched thousands of research projects around the globe.

Three years before the study began, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died from complications of untreated hypertension, and conventional wisdom held that high blood pressure was an unalterable result of aging.

Framingham proved otherwise. Dr. Daniel Levy, the study’s current director and a faculty member at the medical schools of Harvard and Boston universities, said that by showing most of the risk factors for heart disease can be controlled by lifestyle behaviors, Framingham demonstrated that “family history is no longer destiny.” Indeed, the data obtained by monitoring the health of more than 5,200 Framingham citizens essentially transformed the approach of medicine from treatment to prevention.

“The Framingham Heart Study introduced the concept of risk factors…. It changed the way we practice medicine,” said Levy, who with journalist Susan Brink chronicled the study’s genesis and its continuing challenges in “A Change of Heart: How the People of Framingham, Massachusetts, Helped Unravel the Mysteries of Cardiovascular Disease” (Knopf, 2005).

Levy noted that blood pressure and cholesterol levels have decreased dramatically in the last 30 years, down from an average of about 225 to about 205 today.

“From the 1960s to the present time, deaths from cardiovascular disease have declined by 60 to 70 percent,” he told The Journal.

Despite this progress, however, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States and claims some 950,000 lives every year. And while rates of many risk factors have declined, the incidence of obesity has dramatically increased, threatening to “reverse many of the major advances we’ve made in the past 30 years,” Levy said.

Further, Levy estimates that one-third of the approximately 65 million Americans who suffer from high blood pressure remain unaware of their condition.

The federal government’s guidelines for health screenings call for blood pressure testing at least every one to two years for adults older than 18. Cholesterol testing should begin at age 20. Adults who are at increased risk for coronary heart disease should also discuss aspirin therapy.

For healthy individuals with high cholesterol levels, and for those with established heart disease or diabetes, Levy strongly advocates cholesterol-lowering medications. These drugs, he said, have been found so safe and effective in high-risk populations that the benefits far outweigh any risks. Yet according to Levy, fewer than 25 percent of those who probably would benefit from cholesterol-lowering medications take them.

And regardless of blood pressure and cholesterol levels, a healthy lifestyle is always recommended. The American College of Cardiology advocates 30 minutes of exercise daily, as well as a diet low in fat and high in fiber, which includes at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. According to Levy, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels — whether through lifestyle, medication or a combination of both — provides beneficial results regardless of one’s age.

The Framingham Heart Study is now entering its sixth decade, and has enrolled more than 5,000 children and 3,500 grandchildren of the original study participants. This has provided researchers with an unprecedented treasure trove of information to plumb for genetic secrets: DNA samples paired with three generations of clinical and laboratory data. “In the next few years, there will be important results coming from our genetic studies,” Levy said. He hopes these findings will identify additional risk factors, some of which will be modifiable, as well as pinpoint disease-promoting genes. The study has also branched out to areas beyond the heart, such as arthritis, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease.

Levy noted that many of science’s most important findings emerge gradually, rather than as dramatic, “front-page” discoveries.

“The principles of prevention and the lessons learned about treating modifiable risk factors have saved countless hundreds of thousands of lives,” he said.

One of those lives may be that of second-generation study participant Bouchard. His father died from a heart attack at the age of 38, five months before Bouchard’s birth. Bouchard, 58, works out daily and follows a low-fat diet.

When Bouchard treks to Framingham for whatever new test that may await him, his father is never far from his mind. And while Bouchard knows he can’t change the past, he’s confident that his efforts will save future lives.