Hanukka is yet another holiday that fits into the classic Jewish holiday mantra: they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat! And with Hanukka, boy do we eat.
As children, spinning dreidels and glinting chocolate coins and brightly wrapped gifts draw us to the holiday; as adults, it’s all about the food. Hanukkah brings us sweetly yeasted donuts bursting with sickly, bright red jam and delicately coated in powdered sugar (or caster if you’re British).
Hanukka also cemented the most faultless foodstuff known to man into Jewish tradition: latkes. Golden and crispy on the outside, steamy and salty within, the endlessly versatile humble potato pancake is one of life’s truest culinary joys.
The reason, of course, that donuts and latkes (or levivot and sufganiyot, to give them their Hebrew names) hold such a special place in our Hanukkah celebrations links back to the miracle of the oil.
When the triumphant Maccabees reclaimed the Temple, they found just one little jar of oil with which to rekindle the menorah. Miraculously, the oil – which was enough to last for just one night – lasted for eight, and to commemorate this act of divine intervention, we indulge in oily foods throughout the holiday.
That’s the thing, though. These mouthwatering foods are an indulgence: an occasional treat to be savored.
Problem 1: Hanukkah’s deep-fried delicacies are – literally – dripping with saturated fats. This type of fat is hard for your body to burn up, and does bad things to your heart health and cholesterol levels.
Problem 2: Hanukkah lasts for eight days. Not only is it a long holiday, but its non-Yom Tov status makes it perfect for family gatherings and parties… and yes, everyone you’ve ever met has figured this out. Expect a barrage of invitations for Hanukkah parties (on the nights you’re not entertaining your extended family, obviously) and the heartstopping food that comes with it.
Eight days of holiday parties is heavy. So is eight days days of donuts and latkes (the offer of which you can never ignore, as everyone uses their Grandma’s latke recipe and it is honestly the best one ever and just try one, you’ll love it!). Hanukkah’s customs are undeniably unhealthy, so here are a few ideas to help you lighten up this Festival of Lights.
Bake your latkes
Use non-stick cookie sheets with a liberal spritz of a low-fat cooking spray to bake your latkes to crispy perfection! They crisp up even better if you pre-heat the trays in a 180°C oven before adding and flattening scoops of your latke mix.
Switch out the potatoes
I know, it seems like sacrilege; latkes and potatoes are synonymous in the traditional Hanukkah kitchen. But the vegetable world is vast and colorful and delicious, and there are so many alternatives to potatoes you can explore! Sweet potato, zucchini , and beets are all easy to grate and make delectable latkes.
Skip the sour cream
Sour cream offers a creamy, cool contrast to crispy, hot latkes, but 100g contains 20g of fat! Trade it in for a scoop of rich Greek yoghurt instead – it’s just as delicious but contains just 0.4g fat per 100g. It also has five times as much protein, making it a great choice for a filling, healthful pick-me-up.
Stock up on nuts
It’s traditional to give little bags of chocolate coins to kids on Hanukka (gelt – money – was the original Hanukkah gift), and it’s often used as bartering chips in games of dreidel. If you’re worried about your little one’s sugar intake over the holiday, stock up on nuts or a favorite dried fruit instead – they’re sweet and crunchy, perfect for keeping your kids happy!
And on donuts…
…Nothing to say here. I won’t insult you by suggesting anything other than taking gleeful, giant bites into perfectly fried, fluffy donuts – preferably ending up with sticky jam smeared across your face and squirted down your shirt. But if you’re having one for dessert, consider having a salad for dinner.
Wishing you a happy rest of your Hanukka!