Hanukkah brings special delight for children, but it's enough to give a cardiologist nightmares. The Festival of Lights is unique among holidays in that its liturgy urges the consumption of fat.
Hanukkah, of course, celebrates the victory of a small band of Jewish patriots over a mighty Syrian army in 165 BCE. When the Maccabees, as these freedom fighters were called, went to rekindle the holy light in their Great Temple, they found only enough oil to burn for a single night. A messenger was dispatched to a distant city to fetch more holy oil, but he was not expected to return for a week.
It was here that the Hanukkah miracle occurred. The oil in the tiny cruet burned for eight straight days and nights, until the messenger returned. To celebrate, Jews light candles in eight branched menorahs and eat foods that are fried in oil.
Israelis commemorate Hanukkah by eating soufganyot, airy balls of jelly-filled fried dough similar to American doughnut holes. Greek Jews enjoy fried pancakes called tiganites and syrup-soaked puffs of fried dough called zvingos. If you're a Jew and you live in America, you're probably licking your lips at the prospect of the traditional Ashkenazi (European Jewish) Hanukkah treat: oniony, deep-fried potato pancakes, better known as latkes.
Slashing the Fat
The notion of a heart-healthy latke may sound like an oxymoron. After all, a deep-fried, eggy potato pancake is hardly the stuff of a healthy diet. But by judiciously choosing your ingredients and using a cooking technique I call "bake frying," you can dramatically slash the fat. The result? A latke you can eat without guilt.
Choosing the Right Ingredients
Latkes are traditionally made with starchy potatoes, like Idaho bakers. To give my low fat latkes a richer, "fattier" taste, I use Yukon gold potatoes, which have a naturally buttery flavor. And to hold the pancakes together, I use egg whites or egg substitutes, instead of whole eggs. As for the oil (and you do need a little oilthis is Hanukkah, after all), I use olive oil, which appears to boost levels of HDL cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol, while lowering levels of LDL cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol.
Fry In Your Oven
To make low fat latkes, simply fry them in the oven. Preheat a nonstick frying pan in a hot oven. Spray it with olive oil (or place a few spoonfuls of oil on the baking sheet and swirl it around with the back of a wooden spoon). Spoon the potato mixture onto the baking sheet in small mounds and "fry" the resulting pancakes in the oven. The hot baking sheet acts like a deep fat fryer, while the small amount of oil helps the latkes crisp and brown. Bake-frying works better with smaller pieces of food, so I form my latkes in 2-1/2-inch disks that you can gobble in one or two bites.
Another Reason to Love Bake-Fried Latkes
Bake-fried latkes are certainly healthier than the oil-sodden potato pancakes of yesteryear, and they're lighter and cleaner tasting. They also have another advantage: they make a lot less mess in your kitchen. You can use the same technique to make sweet potato latkes, which I like to spice up with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Don't Forget the Fixins
Latkes are traditionally served with sour cream or applesauce. (In my family we serve both.) To further trim the fat, serve a low or no fat sour cream. As for applesauce, it's easy to make your own (basically, you boil apples with a little sugar and cinnamon). Put them together and you get a heart-healthy latke party that you won't soon forget.
Try Steven Raichlen's Recipes:
Low Fat Latkes
Sweet Potato Latkes
Steven Raichlen is the author of 21 books, including the IACP/Julia Child Award-winning Barbecue Bible and the new Barbecue Bible Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades (both published by Workman). His latest book, Healthy Jewish Cooking, was published by Viking in September. He also runs a Barbecue University at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. You can reach him at his web site: www.barbecuebible.com.
He has appeared numerous times on national television, including The Today Show and Good Morning America as well as CNN and The Discovery Channel. Raichlen lives in Coconut Grove, Florida, with his wife Barbara.