Think of Hanukkah, and the image of a menorah may come to mind. For many Jewish families, another Hanukkah staple is deep-fried goodies like doughnuts and latkes (Yiddish word for potato pancakes). Fried food is often eaten during Hanukkah as a way to remember the “miracle of the oil.”
A quick history lesson: After winning a long battle against the Greeks for their religious freedom, the Jews found their temple in ruins. The first thing they did was to clean the temple and put the Menorah back in its place. But they had only enough oil to burn for one day. To their surprise, the oil lasted eight days – just the time they needed to get more oil and rededicate the temple.
This miracle is celebrated by lighting a candle for each of the eight days of Hanukkah – and eating oil-laden deep fried foods such as latkes.
Mixing tradition and healthy eating
Latke ingredients are healthy in and of themselves. A classic latke is made with grated potatoes, eggs, onions and flour. Matzo meal or breadcrumbs can be substituted for the flour. Potatoes can be grated fine or coarse. Some recipes call for scallions or shallots versus onions.
But the trouble comes with how you prepare them. Latkes are typically deep-fried to achieve the perfect amount of crispness. And, this can be costly in terms of added fat and calories.
What to do? Though you may feel that nothing beats a deep-fried latke, remember that it’s the oil, not the deep-frying, that is symbolic of the holiday. Also keep in mind that some of the soldiers used to eat latkes made from cheese, vegetables or fruits. So adding different ingredients to the mix is not as far from tradition as you may think.
Below are some healthier options to the traditional latke if you want to try something a little different this year.
- Add other vegetables. Aside from potatoes, you can either substitute another vegetable completely, or use less potato and combine with other veggies. Good alternatives include sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach or zucchini.
- Use healthier cooking oil. Canola oil is a healthy option for frying, as it has a moderately high smoke point. It’s also low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat. If you plan to fry for more than 15 minutes (even in batches), change the oil to avoid an “off” taste.
- Keep the oil hot. When oil is kept very hot (around 350 degrees F), foods tend to absorb less of the oil. Make sure to adjust the stove setting to ensure the oil stays hot but does not burn.
- Brown and bake. Latkes can be browned first in a small amount of oil, and then baked at a high temperature to finish off the cooking process. Baking at around 425 degrees F can produce a crispy pancake.
- Bake and broil. Latkes can simply be placed on a greased baking pan and baked at 450 degrees F for five to six minutes per side. Then finish them under the broiler, which quickly adds color and crispness to the outside.
Tempting toppings. Latkes are often eaten with sour cream and/or applesauce.
- Use applesauce with no added sugar.
- Use a light sour cream.
- Try some natural fruit spread along or stewed fruit.
- For something a little different, you can also try making some tzatziki, which is a light Greek yogurt sauce. This can be made by combining plain yogurt, chopped cucumber, vinegar, minced shallot, a dash of dill and pinch of salt and pepper.
If you do decide to splurge and go “deep-fried”, just be sure to round out your holiday meal with some lower-fat choices. Baked chicken or a slice of brisket with lots of vegetables and a taste of dessert should round out your meal nicely. And don’t forget – you can always take a brisk walk after eating, too.
Remember, too, that you don’t need fried latkes to celebrate the magic of oil. Simply drizzling a flavorful olive oil onto steamed vegetables, fish or a delicious salad will also do the trick.
- North Dakota State University Extension Service. Prairie fare: even deep-fried foods can fit into a healthy diet. Accessed: 11/02/2009