As a young child, I remember the days before Chanukah vividly. Searching the closets, attic, and basement, all in search for the gold (AKA presents!) And then the night before…all 16 gifts lined up by the fire place (1 for each of the 8 nights for my sister and I), wrapped to conceal their identity. You never knew which one to choose first, bigger looks better, but as your parents always told you “good things come in small packages”…blah blah I always liked to assure that mine was bigger (and better) than my sister’s. And as we got older, this tradition gave way to the more teenage approach- asking parents for that 1 great bag you NEED to have and oh yea, “its only November, but can this please just be my Chanukah gift?” So now as an adult, the whole present giving thing has basically subsided (minus 1 amazing gift-giver who shocked me this year with a blowout Chanukah gift!) and what is left are the party invitations: “Vodka and Latkes”. Sounds better than presents to you? Ok, so being an adult does have its perks but it also means that we need to be a little more cautious with our Chanukah food selections than when we had those unstoppable metabolisms in the younger years.
Chanukah foods are known for one key nutrient: fat. Deep fried potato latkes are as much Chanukah as the presents that accompany them. But don’t be saddened healthy Jews- Secret Ingredient always has the answer to balancing indulgences and food traditions with a healthy lifestyle. And the answer is: Sweet Potato Latkes (baked, rather than fried) and home-made (or home-made by a healthy brand) apple sauce. (And yes, a little vodka with your latke shouldn’t be a problem- moderation is the key).
Why Have You Done a Good Thing?
Sweet Potatoes definitely do NOT get the street credit they deserve. Fine, they may look a little dirty and be shaped weird, some even have some roots coming out, but remember the whole “don’t judge a book by the cover” thing. Sweet potatoes are loaded with beta carotene, which easily converts to the active form of vitamin A. Beta carotene is what makes our potato pal orange. And you can tell just how packed with vitamins it is by looking at the color. As we have mentioned before, the deeper the color, the more nutrient-dense the fruit or vegetable often is- this is the case with the sweet potato. Vitamin A helps our vision, especially at night as it helps our eyes adjust to the dark more efficiently. Without enough vitamin A in our system, risks include night blindness, drying of the corneas, and general decline in eyesight. And for some added credit, vitamin A has been studied for it its potentials in preventing cancer due to anti-oxidant properties. Vitamin A also helps our immune system function correctly and supports proper growth and development.
How much should we have?
RDA (Recommended daily allowance):
Men- 900 mcg or 3,000IU
Women- 700mcg or 2,310IU
Upper Limit- 10,000IU (since vitamin A is fat-soluble, the body can store it, as opposed to water-soluble vitamins like vitamins B and C that are excreted)
*BUT not to worry about over-doing it, the amount you get from foods is often well below safety levels!
Want to get some more vitamin A?
The beta-carotene as we have been discussing can also be found in carrots, cantaloupe, spinach, pumpkin, basically most deep orange or green colored fruits and vegetables, you get the picture… Another type of vitamin A, retinol, is extremely active in the body and is found in eggs, liver, milk (because it is fortified with vitamin A), and even cheddar cheese.
So now that we have explored all the great things about vitamin A- lets use it to celebrate Chanukah- Secret Ingredient style!
Sweet Potato Veggie Latkes (serves 8)
1 pound grated sweet potato
1/2 pound grated carrots
1/2 pound grated zucchini
1/2 cup matzah meal
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp canola oil
Squeeze out all liquid from grated veggies (as much as possible). Combine grated veggies with other ingredients. Using a fork, drop small amounts of mixture into hot oil. Lightly pan fry latkes in oil until they start to brown. Then bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until they are golden brown. Top with applesauce!!
Check out this video for a simple, home-made applesauce and serve it as a dipping sauce for the Sweet Potato Latkes!
Had enough cooking with the latkes? No problem- buy an applesauce that is made with natural ingredients and low in sugar. Try Trader Joe’s Chunky Spiced Apples. If you can’t find that exact type, stick to any Trader Joes or Whole Foods brand- they are usually pretty reliable!
Happy Chanukah and enjoy all of the holiday’s festivities!
--Samantha Jacobs, RD