The traditional golden-brown, crispy, oil-fried treats of Hanukkah can be heart-healthy as well as heart-warming. Try these more health-conscious takes on the holiday recipes you know and love.
Food is truly one of our most cherished holiday traditions. Favorite dishes bring back memories, big meals encourage sharing with family and community, and specific recipes commemorate — and keep alive — religious and cultural customs. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is one of the most treasured festivals of the Jewish tradition, and it is coming up quickly — this year it begins on the evening of December 16 and ends on the evening of December 24. Enjoy these three healthy Hanukkah recipes this holiday season.
Traditional Hanukkah Foods and Health
Special holiday treats are usually not the healthiest recipes in the cookbook (as we all know after those extra helpings of pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving).
Talk with a Senior Living Advisor
Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.
Those of us who are not from Jewish families might not be aware of this, but most Hanukkah foods are cooked with oil, oil and more oil. The reason for this is considered a miracle in the Jewish faith: when the Jewish people rededicated their temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE, there was only one day’s worth of consecrated olive oil to fuel the menorah — but the temple lamp miraculously burned for eight days. Nowadays, practicing Jews celebrate eight days of Hanukkah by lighting a new candle on the menorah each day, chanting blessings, singing songs, and exchanging small gifts.
Because of the key role of oil in the miracle at the temple, cooking with oil plays a prominent role in traditional Hanukkah recipes. The omnipresence of deep-frying may pose an obstacle to health, but there are healthier cooking methods home chefs can turn to, and ingredients such as canola oil and olive oil that can help cut down on cholesterol (and give your waistline a break) during those eight festive days. Besides using plenty of oil — and, of course, keeping kosher, a practice which varies in strictness according to different sects and individuals — another less well-known Hanukkah food tradition is the eating of dairy, particularly cheese. In fact, the potato pancakes called latkes, that most iconic of Hanukkah dishes, were originally made of cheese, according to the Jewish Outreach Institute. This is linked to the Biblical story of Judith and the general Holofernes, an enemy of the Jews. Judith fed cheese to Holofernes, making him thirsty; after drinking too much wine, he passes out, and Judith beheads him. That explains the cheese; but what about the potatoes? One possibility for the substitution of potatoes might be the seasonal aspect — root vegetables tend to be plentiful during the fall and winter months. You’ll see a lot of other seasonal recipes with winter squashes, beets, sweet potatoes and so forth during Hanukkah. And, of course, there is a wide array of delectable desserts.
Here are a few typical Hanukkah foods:
Latkes: (Levivot in Hebrew): Pancakes made from shredded potato and other vegetables; often served with applesauce and sour cream or yogurt
Sufganiyot: Jelly-filled doughnuts usually topped with powdered sugar
Bunuelos: Also called bimuelos, a Sephardic version of sufganiyot that is dipped in honey
Brisket: A popular cut of beef that is often braised or stewed, as in the sweet holiday stew called tzimmes (see below for a lighter version with chicken)
Rugelach: A rolled or crescent-shaped pastry filled with fruit, preserves, nuts, raisins, chocolate, and/or poppy seeds
Hanukkah Recipes That Help You Stay Healthy
As you can tell, Hanukkah foods often stray into high-fat, decadent territory. But you don’t have to sacrifice tradition for health — make a few key substitutions and tweak some cooking methods (see the bake-fried latkes recipe below) and you’ll be able to enjoy a bigger helping of Hanukkah treats with a smaller helping of guilt. Try these three recipes collected from around the web:
Carrot and Potato Latkes
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 pound potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated
1/2 pound (about 3 medium) carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
1 large egg, lightly beaten
6-9 tablespoons canola oil
Plain yogurt, or applesauce (as a condiment)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prepare a baking sheet.
Peel potatoes and coarsely grate into a colander. Mix in lemon juice and drain for 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, stir together the carrots and egg. Stir in the flour, salt and pepper.
In a large (at least 10-inch) heavy nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Spoon 1/4 cup of the mixture loosely in the pan so it forms a pancake. Repeat to make 3 more pancakes. Press on each lightly with a flat spatula to make a cake about 1/2 inch wide. Cook until browned on one side, about 3 minutes. Turn the cakes over and brown the other side, about 3 minutes.
Transfer to the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining pancake mixture, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan with each batch, depending on how much oil is remaining in the pan.
Bake for 8-10 minutes to cook the pancakes through. Drain briefly on paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Serve while hot, with yogurt and/or applesauce.
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth, or vegetable broth
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/4 cup orange juice
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Place squash, prunes, garlic, shallots, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix well. Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle chicken with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and place on top of the vegetables. Mix broth, orange zest and juice in a small bowl and pour over the chicken. Cover the baking dish with foil.
Bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the vegetables are tender and the chicken is cooked through, basting often, about 1 hour more.
8 ounces reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups “white” whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour, plus more for work surface
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 cup low sugar raspberry preserves
1 cup walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped prunes
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate morsels
3 tablespoons skim, non-fat milk
1/4 cup wheat germ
Whisk flour and salt in a bowl; set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture and mix to form a soft dough. Roll into a ball and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate 6 hours (up to overnight).
Preheat oven to 325° F. Whisk sugar and cinnamon in a bowl; set aside. Divide dough into quarters. Working 1 piece at a time, roll out to a 12-by-8-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface. With long side facing you, spread with 3 tablespoons preserves, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Sprinkle with 1/4 of the walnuts, prunes, and chocolate morsels, plus 2 tablespoons sugar mixture. Tightly roll dough into a log; place, seam side down, on a parchment or aluminum-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.
Brush each log with milk; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar mixture and sprinkle with wheat germ. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer to wire racks; cool 15 minutes. Cut into 1-inch-thick slices. Store in an airtight container up to 2 days.
If you’re intrigued by these recipes and looking for more, there are numerous online and offline resources for cooks trying to keep kosher and healthy during the holidays, from Tori Avey’s Shiksa in the Kitchen website to Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s beautifully photographed cookbooks. So don’t be put off by the obligation for oil this Hanukkah — get creative and get cooking!
What is your family’s favorite Hanukkah recipe? How have you adapted traditional dishes to be healthier? Join the discussion in the comments below.