The Festival of Light ... in Food

Stuck on what to cook for the holiday? Wendy is here to help.

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins Saturday at sundown, and all around the world Jews will be lighting the menorah (Hanukkah candelabra), saying blessings for the holiday and sharing traditional foods with family and friends. 

While fried foods are customary, as they recall the oil used to relight the lamp in the temple, in our more health-conscious era we can still honor this tradition with recipes that incorporate canola and olive oils and put a modern twist on old favorites.

Wendyfully Easy Potato Latkes

Latkes, or potato pancakes, are traditionally served with applesauce. But many folks like them with a dollop of sour cream, particularly when they are savory and made with onions. Be aware that your oil may cool down between batches and that you may need to add more oil; repeat heat test as needed.

2 packages of Simply Potatoes Shredded Hash Browns (see note for alternative)

½ tsp baking soda

2 medium onions, grated or finely chopped

2 tsp salt

½ cup all-purpose flour

3 large or extra-large eggs, beaten with a little cold water

canola oil for frying

1)    In a large mixing bowl, toss baking soda with shredded potatoes.

2)    Add onions, salt and flour and mix well. 

3)    Add beaten eggs and mix well.

4)    Heat oil (should be approximately ¼ in. deep) in skillet.  Test heat by dropping a single shard of potato mixture in oil; if it starts to sizzle immediately, oil is hot enough.

5)    Drop mixture by tablespoons into the hot oil and flatten with the back of spoon or spatula.

6)    When edges begin to brown, gently turn over and fry until other side is golden brown.

7)    Drain on paper towels (or, if you're environmentally conscious, use clean brown paper grocery bags), repeating until all potato mixture is used.

8)    Latkes may be kept warm on a cookie sheet in a 200° oven  (or you can just eat them as you go along)

Note: If you are not like me and can relish the thought of grating your own potatoes (and can do so without grating your knuckles), substitute 6 medium baking potatoes for the Simply Potatoes pre-shredded ones and reduce the eggs to 2. Make sure to grate the potatoes on the larger-holed attachment of your food processor or grater, and squeeze out all moisture in a dishtowel or with your hands.


Middle Eastern Chicken

Chicken is often the centerpiece of festive Jewish meals, but for those who find the idea of a whole roasted chicken intimidating and like the ease and health benefits of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, this makes an impressive, tasty presentation.

1 cup low- or non-fat Greek-style yogurt

2 TBSP olive oil

1 TBSP za'atar spice (blend of dried oregano, basil, thyme, savory, sumac, sesame seeds, and salt and is available at specialty shops and some grocery stores)

1 tsp dried mint

1 tsp lemon zest

2 good-sized garlic cloves, pressed

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (can use tenders; do not use thin cutlets)

1) Mix together first 6 ingredients in a non-reactive bowl or casserole dish (I like my 8x8 glass baking dish)

2) Add chicken breasts and turn to coat with marinade. Cover dish with plastic wrap.

3) Allow chicken to marinate in fridge for at least 2 hours and as much as overnight

4) Take chicken from marinade (make sure most of marinade is off chicken breasts so they do not burn) and DISCARD MARINADE (if you would like to turn these same ingredients into a dipping sauce of sorts, start over).

5) Either grill or broil chicken breasts for about 5 minutes per side or until no longer pink inside.  Watch carefully to make sure chicken does not burn.


Now that you're all set for latkes and chicken, you'll need something to accompany your meal and a fitting way to end it.


Carrot gelt

Gelt, or money, is a traditional gift on Hanukkah. These carrot rounds resemble both the actual golden coins and the foil-wrapped chocolate treat.

2 lbs. carrots peeled and sliced either by hand, in the food processor or on a mandolin slicer to approximately 1/4 in. thickness–you should have about 6 cups of carrot "coins."

1/3 cup water

1 TBSP olive oil

1/4 tsp ground cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

1) Place carrots and water in 10 – 12 in. skillet or saucepan with lid, cover and bring to a boil.

2) Lower temperature to medium-low and cook for 7 to 8 minutes or until carrots are barely tender when poked with the tip of a knife.

3) Add the olive oil and cumin and toss to coat carrots.

4) Sauté for another minute or until water has evaporated.

5) Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and serve.


Olive Oil Cake #4

My mother, Evie Lieb, writes a monthly food column for her synagogue newsletter. The following recipe, adapted from the blog of Connie Thadewalt, is not only Hanukkah-appropriate because of its use of olive oil instead of butter, but is also deliciously heart-healthy.

Evie suggests, "it might be easier to bake this in a 9-inch round pan with a removable bottom, as the cake would not have to be inverted with its delicate almond topping. If you decide to try this, start checking the cake for doneness after about 45 minutes (40 for convection)—just in case."

3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup corn meal (I used stone-ground)

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp orange zest (or more if you really like orange)

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (not too bitter) plus more for the pan.

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 TBSP honey

3/4 cup sugar

2 large or extra-large eggs, room temperature


2 TBSP sugar

1/6 cup chopped dry-roasted, salted almonds

1/6 cup  sliced natural almonds, lightly toasted

*Mix together in a small bowl. Set aside.

(For 1/6 cup measurements, fill a 1/3 C measure half full with the chopped almonds, then fill the cup with the sliced ones—it doesn't have to be exact.)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 degrees convection) with oven rack in middle position. Oil a 9"X 5" loaf pan with olive oil.

2) Combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder and zest in a small bowl. Wisk together to make sure the zest in evenly distributed.

3) Combine the oil, buttermilk and honey in a measuring cup. Stir to mix these together.

4) In bowl of electric mixer cream the sugar and eggs at medium-high speed with paddle attachment until pale yellow, about a minute. On medium speed, add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the wet ingredients. Don't over-beat, but do make sure ingredients are well incorporated after each addition. Scrape down sides of bowl as necessary.

5) With a rubber or silicone spatula scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan.

6) Sprinkle the almond mixture on top. Bake in preheated oven until golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 1 hour (about 50 minutes for convection).

7) Allow to cool in pan 15 minutes, then cover surface of cake closely with plastic wrap and invert onto a cake rack or plate. Place another rack on the inverted cake and turn it right side up. Remove the plastic wrap and allow cake to cool completely before cutting it.


B'tayavon, and may you and your families have a joyous Hanukkah!


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