Hold the schmaltz
Food for thought

Hold the schmaltz

The healthy latke, mixed with spelt and fried in coconut oil

Phyllis Glazer is an American-born food journalist based in Tel Aviv, Israel. She is the author of several cookbooks that have been published in Hebrew, German, and Italian, and appears frequently on television and radio in Israel.

Freshly fried ginger and beet latkes with celery cilantro salsa (photo credit: Dania Weiner)
Freshly fried ginger and beet latkes with celery cilantro salsa (photo credit: Dania Weiner)
Phyllis Glazer's healthier latkes, made with carrots, ginger and beets (photo credit: Dania Weiner/Courtesy Healthy Cooking, by Phyllis Glazer)
Phyllis Glazer’s healthier latkes, made with carrots, ginger and beets (photo credit: Dania Weiner/Courtesy Healthy Cooking, by Phyllis Glazer)

In New York where I was raised, we never heard of eating sufganiot (the Jewish version of the jelly donut) on Hanukkah; the quintessential holiday food was the potato latke. Growing up in an almost entirely Ashkenazi environment with the few Sephardim keeping their customs to themselves, I never dreamed there was a world of sweet and savory Hanukkah foods that belonged to Jewish culinary tradition.

I only knew about the latke. The word latke derives from the Yiddish, and probably existed long before the potato arrived from the New World in the sixteenth century. Easy (as if anything was easy in those days) to store in winter, and a versatile, unbeatable comfort food, the potato soon became a kitchen staple, and by the mid-1840s was cultivated throughout Russia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, and in time spread to Asia and the Far East.

So imagine being a Jewish mother living in a small village in Poland in the dead of winter, with some six children to feed and just a few potatoes with which to celebrate Hanukkah’s miracle of the oil. There was no oil but there was schmaltz, fat rendered from a chicken, duck or goose (which was also served on the holiday), and by grating the potatoes and making them into little patties fried in schmaltz, she could feed her entire family with just a few potatoes and very little fuel.

In the Sephardic world, throughout the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East, mothers who wanted to honor the Hanukkah miracle tradition went far beyond the latke to develop recipes using ingredients available in their own countries, such as fresh-pressed olive oil to fry chicken and various olive oil-fried puffs of dough for dessert, including bumuelos, lokomades and sphinj. Since moving to Israel, I’ve tasted them all, and can report that they all quite delicious and calorific.

But in the Glazer home, we use the latke as a concept to explore, with the general agreement that potato latkes are fine, but carrot or beet latkes are better, both in taste and from a nutritional standpoint. To bind, I often use crushed (gluten-free) almond or spelt flour instead of white flour or matza meal. And although somewhat irreverent, I sometimes like to fry our little latkes in extra-virgin coconut or avocado oil, which are safer to use at higher temperatures than olive oil. Happy holiday!

Ginger Latkes (makes about 10)

  • 1 pound carrots (about 4 medium), scraped and coarsely shredded (4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour (70% whole wheat flour) or ¼-⅓ cup almond flour
  • 6-7 tablespoons canola, olive or coconut oil for frying

1. Rinse, trim and scrape carrots and shred on the coarse side of grater to yield 4 cups.

2. In a medium bowl, mix carrots, ginger, salt, pepper and baking powder together with a wooden spoon. Stir in eggs and flour and mix well.

3. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.

4. To form each latke, fill a ¼ cup measure with carrot mixture and press down. Drop into hot oil and flatten down with a spatula. Repeat to make 5-6 latkes at a time.

5. Cook 4-5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Transfer to a paper towel to absorb excess oil, and serve with yogurt, sour cream or celery cilantro salsa (recipe follows).

For beet latkes: Follow the same recipe as above, use two eggs instead of three, add 1/2 teaspoon each ground cumin and coriander, and drain the grated beets in a strainer for 10 minutes before mixing with remaining ingredients.

Celery cilantro salsa (makes 2 cups)

  • 2 cups finely minced celery (about 3-4 large stalks)
  • 2 tablespoons minced cilantro
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3-4 teaspoons wine vinegar
  • Pinch sugar (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Mix all the ingredients together.

2. Let stand at least 10 minutes before serving. (May be prepared several hours in advance. Cover with plastic wrap and chill). Taste and adjust seasonings before serving.

read more: