HomeDecember 2015Enlitened Hanukkah

Enlitened Hanukkah

1215cookingWhen Judah Maccabee and a tiny band of Jewish freedom fighters overthrew the enemy and cleansed the Temple, only a small cruse of consecrated oil was found with which to light the eternal flame. Miraculously, this oil that should have lasted but a single day burned for eight, and we’ve been celebrating with a frying frenzy ever since.

It’s doubtful that the Maccabees celebrated with latkes. Nevertheless foods fried in oil have been symbols of Hanukkah for centuries. But did the rabbis say how much oil?

Lest you call me the Grinch that stole Hanukkah, I propose that a little goes a long way. This year I’m determined to celebrate the holiday without busting my caloric budget, and for tips on how to do that deliciously I turn to Nechama Cohen, founder and CEO of the Jewish Diabetes Association, who slashes her way through the schmaltz with Enlitened Kosher Cooking (Feldheim Publishers, $39.95), a lusciously photographed cookbook with over 250 good-carb, healthy-fat, sugar-free recipes that nourish the soul without damaging the heart.

“I was diagnosed with diabetes in 1985 and was presented with a real kitchen challenge,” recalled Cohen, who spoke to me by phone from her home in Israel, “so I started ‘enlitening’ recipes. After 20 years it was time to put them in writing!”

But you needn’t be diabetic to appreciate these healthful and elegant recipes that are short on deprivation and long on flavor. “Traditional Jewish cooking is known to be heavy,” Cohen noted, “but lightening up these dishes is really doable.” We need to look at fat and carbs, and with her slimmed-down versions of our beloved holiday recipes, we can have our latkes and eat them too!

Hanukkah  (beginning Sunday, December 6 at sundown) presents a challenge, because this holiday is all about the oil. “With nonstick pans and cooking sprays and healthier oils–olive, canola, walnut, grapeseed–it’s really easy to lighten these recipes,” observed Cohen. Try crunchy cauliflower, cabbage and zucchini latkes, made with a minimum of oil, instead of potato.

“Potato latkes are very difficult not to nibble on,” Cohen admitted, “so I try to convince my family to try some potato-combo latkes before they try anything else. And I keep them in the oven on the lowest setting. The nice thing about latkes is if they dry up a bit, they just get crispier.”

As a diabetic, Cohen also had to cut down on sugar… fast! “I’ve learned to use other ingredients, so we don’t need to load up on sugar or even sugar substitutes,” she said. “Moderation is key. I don’t believe in the word ‘diet.’ A diet is temporary. Long-term lifestyle changes need to be coupled with moderation so it can last. These recipes contain normal amounts of sugar, not two and three cups of sugar. Same thing with the fat. In standard cookbooks the amount of sugar and fat in the recipes is scary.”

A lesser-known Hanukkah tradition involves the eating of cheese. Judith, an unsung legendary heroine of the Apocrypha, was a beautiful Jewish widow. She dined with the enemy general Holofernes, plying him with cheese to make him thirsty for wine. When he fell into a drunken stupor, she beheaded him with his own sword. Because her bravery is said to have inspired the Maccabees, some communities remember Judith by eating cheese on this holiday. But how to work cheese into an “enlitened” Hanukkah table?

No problem! Carb-free and low fat, Cohen’s colorful Cheese Balls make an elegant appetizer or satisfying nibble just for yourself.

Cohen’s common sense approach to creating a healthy lifestyle means you enjoy the holiday, not just get through it. “Here in Israel the only difficulty with Hanukkah is the sufganiyot (jelly donuts) all over the place in every flavor you can think of,” lamented Cohen. “You can smell them ten miles away. But every Jewish holiday is definitely livelier here and more intense than it is in the states. It’s the nicest time to be in Israel.”


With each new batch, spray pan with nonstick cooking spray and/or wipe pan with oil occasionally, as well. You need to be patient with these pancakes and fry them for a long time until they are cooked through, or they will fall apart when flipped.

Cauliflower Latkes

Yield: 16 servings

2 large eggs plus 2 egg whites, beaten

1 small onion, peeled

1 (2-pound) package frozen cauliflower or 1 fresh head, steamed and drained

2 tablespoons soy or whole-wheat flour

Salt and pepper to taste

Non-stick cooking spray

2 tablespoons olive oil, for frying

1 Let frozen cauliflower thaw. Put in colander and squeeze out liquid.

2 Process eggs and onion in food processor and add cauliflower, flour and seasonings until finely chopped; do not overprocess.

3 Wipe a non-stick frying pan with paper towel dipped in oil and spray pan with non-stick cooking spray. Put on low heat, wait until hot and drop batter by tablespoonfuls into pan. Brown on both sides.


Substitute broccoli or spinach for part or all of cauliflower.

Cabbage Latkes

Yield: 10-12 servings

2 cups cabbage, finely grated

1 large egg plus 2 egg whites, beaten

1 green onion, chopped

2 tablespoons soy or whole-wheat flour

Salt and pepper to taste

Non-stick cooking spray

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 Place cabbage in  4-cup bowl. With wooden spoon, mix in eggs and green onion. Add flour and season to taste.

2 Using wet hands, form latkes and fry on both sides over medium-high heat.


Zucchini-Potato Latkes

The addition of the potatoes does not significantly increase carbs, but it makes a big difference in the taste.

Yield: 12 servings

3 large zucchini, peeled

1 medium potato, peeled

1 large egg plus 2 egg whites, beaten

2 tablespoons soy or whole-wheat flour

Salt and pepper to taste

Non-stick cooking spray

2 tablespoons canola oil, for frying

1 Grate zucchini and potato, either by hand or in food processor. Drain well in colander. Remove any additional liquid by wrapping grated vegetables in a clean dishtowel and squeezing well.

2 By hand, mix in egg, flour
and seasonings.

3 Form latkes and fry on both sides.

Cheese Balls

Yield: 17 servings

11/2 cups farmer cheese

1/2 cup 5% soft white cheese, such as low-fat ricotta (well-drained)

1 cup low-fat grated yellow cheese (muenster, cheddar, etc.)

1/4 cup green onions, minced

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)


1 tablespoon sweet or sharp paprika

1/3 cup minced dill

1/3 cup minced parsley

1/3 cup roasted nuts, coarsely chopped

1/3 cup roasted sesame seeds


1 Mix together cheeses, green onions and Worcestershire sauce, if using, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2 Form mixture into small balls and roll each ball in any of the garnishes. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to two days. It is not recommended to prepare these in advance and freeze.

Sweet variation:

Omit green onions. Add 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract and roll in cinnamon.


For a Chinese twist, use 1 tablespoon light soy sauce instead of Worcestershire and roll in minced fresh ginger.

Source: Enlitened Kosher Cooking by Nechama Cohen

Jlife food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.


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