Healthy Hanukkah: The Triumph of Quality over Quantity

The Physicians Committee

Healthy Hanukkah: The Triumph of Quality over Quantity

Starting at sundown on Dec. 12 and lasting for eight days, menorahs will burn brightly in the windows of Jewish homes as a testament to the triumph of a small band of Jewish religious freedom fighters, known as the Maccabes, during the reign of Greek King Antiochus. As legend tells, the Maccabes fought and reclaimed the temple in Jerusalem, which had been captured and occupied by the Greeks. In the temple, the Greeks had defiled almost all of the oil used to light the menorah. Only one ritually pure flask remained, and it was only enough to last for one night. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days.


The Hanukkah celebration does not center around a feast as with other Jewish holidays, although there are traditional foods cooked in oil to symbolize the oil that lasted for eight days. Even so, two messages can be drawn from Hanukkah which are applicable to eating and a healthy lifestyle. First, quality matters—not quantity. The Maccabes overcame insurmountable odds to win back the temple not because of their sheer force but the quality of their spirit. Just as one pure flask of oil burned for eight days, so the small band of Maccabes fought with the strength of many soldiers. Similarly, the foods we eat during Hanukkah, and hopefully year round, should be quality meals full of nutritious plant-based foods and not meals high in cholesterol and fat. The second lesson Hanukkah can teach us is present in the very root of the word Hanukkah which means rededication. Hanukkah is a time for spiritual rededication and can also be a time for rededication to our health.

The following flavorful recipes provide some healthier alternatives to traditionally high-fat dishes. As for the oil, remember it's quality not quantity that counts.

The following recipes for Broccoli Latkes and Potato Latkes are from The Lowfat Jewish Cookbook by Debra Wasserman published by the Vegetarian Resource Group.

Broccoli Latkes

Serves 5

1 pound broccoli, chopped into small pieces
2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and cubed into small pieces
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
salt and pepper to taste

Cook all the ingredients (except the oil) in a large covered pot over medium heat for 20 minutes. Drain mixture. Mash ingredients together.

Heat oil in large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Form 10 pancakes. Fry 8 minutes on one side. Flip and fry for another 5 minutes on the other side. Serve warm.

Nutrition information per serving: 220 calories, 6.5 g protein, 44 g carbohydrate, 3.3 g fat, 13.5% of calories from fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 33 mg sodium

Potato Latkes

Serves 4

1-1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and grated
1 medium onion, peeled and grated
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
dash of pepper
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

Mix all the together in a large bowl. Form 3” patties and fry in a lightly oiled pan over medium heat for 10 minutes. Flip latkes and fry for another 10 minutes until crisp on both sides. Serve warm.

Nutrition information per serving: 189 calories, 4 g protein, 44 g carbohydrate, 0.2 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 275 mg sodium

The following recipes for Gourmet Applesauce for Latkes and Incredible Spread are from The Jewish Vegetarian Year Cookbook by Roberta Kalechofsky published by Micah Publications.

Gourmet Applesauce for Latkes

Serves 8

6 apples (Cortlands, Granny Smiths, or Macs)
1/4 cup sugar (or less)
lemon juice to taste (optional)

Quarter the apples and place in pot with water almost to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce to simmer, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Put through food mill. Add sugar and lemon juice to taste, if needed. Simmer about 3 minutes or until slightly thickened. Makes about 4 cups.

Nutrition information per serving: 86 calories, 0.2 g protein, 22 g carbohydrate, 0.4 g fat, 4% of calories from fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0.08 mg sodium

For less sweet-tasting latkes, umeboshi paste is made from pickled plums and sometimes called ume paste.

Incredible Spread

Serves 8

1 pound firm tofu
1 tablespoon umeboshi paste
1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
1-1/2 tablespoons oil
3 - 4 large scallions, chopped fine

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process or pulse tofu for about 20 seconds until just smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients. Store in refrigerator.

Also excellent on sandwiches, as a spread, or stuffing for olives, mushrooms, or celery. Makes a nice holiday dip or spread.

Nutrition information per serving: 106 calories, 9 g protein, 2.7 g carbohydrate, 7.5 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 175 mg sodium