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.

Latkes and farinata: Something familiar, something new

These days, my family has spread out, but as always, we will all be coming together for Chanukah, because no one wants to miss the Chanukah reunion dinner, our favorite family get-together.

It is a time to catch up on family gossip and enjoy each other’s company, a time to sit around the table and reminisce about the past, light the Chanukah candles, eat and open the holiday presents.

When everyone arrives, we serve my special potato latkes, fried at the last minute and served hot and crispy, topped with applesauce or sugar. In addition, we always include something new. Last year it was corn blinis with salmon caviar. This Chanukah I have a new recipe that is a specialty of Liguria, Italy: Farinata, a thin chickpea pancake usually cooked in a wood-burning oven. Similar to a pizza, it can be served topped with roasted vegetables or soft cheese and can also be eaten plain, right out of the oven. Crisp and golden on the top, soft and moist on the inside, glistening with the fragrant olive oil it is fried in, Farinata is a finger-lickin’ food that nourishes the soul.

The main course will be a family favorite: my mother’s recipe for roast chicken baked in a tomato-wine sauce with lots of fresh vegetables and mushrooms from the farmer’s market. Perfect, because it can be made several days in advance and is easy to reheat and serve. I serve the chicken with green tomato marmalade, a wonderful recipe I discovered while taking a cooking class on one of our previous Italian trips. I make a large quantity of the marmalade using unripe green tomatoes available at this time of the year, fill jars and store them in the refrigerator. If there is leftover sauce from the roast chicken, I use it with pasta the next night.

Several years ago, I asked Michel Richard, when he was the chef at Citrus Restaurant in Los Angeles, if there was a way to serve chocolate ice cream without using dairy products. He said, “Why Judy, of course.” The next day he served me the most delicious bittersweet nondairy chocolate sorbet I have ever tasted. This is a perfect dessert for a nondairy meal. In addition, I have asked each family to bring a tray of their favorite homemade cookies to accompany this delicious chocolate dessert.

Judy’s Crispy Potato Latkes

This latke recipe was chosen as one of the top 10 recipes of 1998 by the Los Angeles Times.

4 baking potatoes, peeled
1 large yellow onion, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Olive oil, for frying

Grate the potatoes, using a food processor or fine shredder. Immediately transfer potatoes to a large bowl and add the onion, lemon juice, eggs, flour, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Heat 1/8 inch of olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pour the batter into the hot oil with a large spoon and flatten with the back of the spoon to make 4-inch latkes. Cook on one side until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes; then turn and cook on the other side, about 2 minutes. (Turn once only.) Drain well on paper towels and serve immediately, plain or with topping.

Makes about a dozen latkes, or four servings.

Farinata (Chickpea Pancake)

In Liguria, which flanks Genoa along Italy’s northwest coast, the regional comfort food is Farinata. A deceptively simple street food, Farinata resembles a large, thin crepe or pancake and is traditionally cooked in a wood-burning oven.

Crisp and golden on the top, soft and moist on the inside, Farainata can be stuffed or garnished with any vegetable, cheese, or sauce, or it can be eaten plain. In some places minced onions or rosemary are sprinkled on top before it is baked.

2/3 cup chickpea flour
1/3 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons olive oil
1⁄2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1/4 cup chopped tomato
1/4 cup chopped onions
1 tablespoon capers, (optional)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sift the chickpea flour with the salt into a medium bowl. Slowly add 1⁄4 cup of the water, whisking constantly to form a paste. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Whisk in remaining 1/2 cup of the water and let the batter stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, then stir in the rosemary.

Preheat the broiler.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick ovenproof skillet. Stir the batter once, pour it into the skillet and drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil on top. Cook the pancake over moderately high heat until the bottom is golden and crisp and the top is almost set, 2 to 3 minutes. Burst any large air bubbles with the tip of a knife.

Sprinkle the rosemary, tomato, onion, capers (if using), Parmesan and pepper over the top, then place the skillet under the broiler and cook until the pancake is golden and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Slide onto a wooden board, cut into wedges and serve immediately. Repeat with the remaining batter.
Makes 2 Farinatas.
Note: Chickpea flour is sold in Italian specialty shops and health food stores.

Grandma Molly’s Roast Chicken With Mushrooms and Whole Garlic Cloves

1⁄2 cup olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
1 (15-ounce) can peeled tomatoes with juice, diced
1 cup dry white wine
2 (3-pound) chickens, cut into pieces
12 medium mushrooms, quartered
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 head garlic, cloves separated, unpeeled
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 sprigs of fresh rosemary or 2 tablespoons dried rosemary

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

In a large roaster, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions, minced garlic, carrots and celery, until tender. Add the tomatoes with juice and wine. Bring to a boil and simmer a few minutes. Arrange the chicken pieces, whole garlic cloves and mushrooms into the sauce and baste to coat the chicken. Add salt and pepper to taste, simmer for 5 minutes.

Place the fresh rosemary sprigs on top, cover and roast for 1 hour or until the chicken is tender.

To serve, spoon the sauce onto individual heated serving plates, place the chicken pieces on top with the mushrooms and vegetables and be sure to put an unpeeled garlic clove on top of each serving.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Chef Klaus’ Green Tomato Marmalade (Marmellata di Pomodori Verdi)

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
8 cups (2 pounds) green (under-ripe) tomatoes, diced (about 4 large tomatoes)
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, heated
Grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
10-15 mint leaves, sliced (optional)

In a large, heavy skillet combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil, mixing constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar begins to turn golden. Add the tomatoes, orange juice and zest, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the tomatoes are soft and the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup, about 20 minutes. Mix in the mint leaves, if using.


Makes about 3 to 4 cups.

Michel Richard’s Nondairy Chocolate Sorbet

3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
4 cups water
1 1⁄2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
1 cup port or cranberry juice

In a large, heavy saucepan, mix the cocoa and sugar together. Add water a little at a time in thin stream, mixing with wire whisk until well blended and smooth. Bring to boil for 5 to 10 minutes, until thick. (Straining is optional.)
Add chocolate and port, bring to a boil, then simmer until thick. Pour into an 8-cup pitcher or bowl and then place in a larger bowl filled with ice and water, stirring until cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Process in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer sorbet to a covered container and freeze at least 2 hours to mellow. If frozen solid, soften in refrigerator or at room temperature until creamy.

Makes 1 1⁄2 to 2 quarts.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Morrow, 1988) and “The International Deli Cookbook (Chronicle, 1994). “Judy’s Kitchen” appears on Jewish Life Television. Her Web site is www.judyzeidler.com.