Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fire up that menorah, not your oil!

For those of you who don’t know, tonight is the first night of Hanukkah or the festival of lights in the Jewish religion. The most coveted and delicious tradition is the latke or fried potato pancake. I look forward to my mom’s version every year! But I’m always looking to make traditional foods healthier…

Why have you done a good thing?

Everyone knows that fried foods are notoriously high in calories, but why? Fried foods contain a large amount of oil, which is a type of fat. Fat is the highest source of calories compared to any other nutrient at 9 calories per gram, as opposed to carbohydrates and protein which have 4 calories per gram. Thus, foods high in fat like fried foods, oil, nuts, avocado, seeds, nut butters, butter and cheese are calorically denser than any other foods, making portions very small as each bite contains a very large amount of calories. For example, 1 oz of carrots is only 12 calories compared to 1 oz of nuts which has 185 calories. However, just because fats are high in calories, does not mean nuts and other healthy fats like avocadoes are bad choices. They are perfectly healthy choices and important to include in your diet, just in smaller portions!

So save the oil for the menorah and try lightly frying your latkes in less oil and baking them the rest of the way in the oven. Less oil means less calorie density, making portion sizes of your latkes larger. Hot air from baking is calorie free!

My basic latke recipe:

8 large russet potatoes, grated or shredded (find the smallest graters possible!!)

1 medium onion, diced (optional, some people prefer no onion!)

4 large eggs

¼ cup matzo meal

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

3 tbsp of oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Clean and peel potatoes. Shred the potatoes by hand or in a food processor. Squeeze shredded potatoes to remove as much liquid as you can.

In a large bowl, combine potatoes, onions (if using them), beaten egg, matzo meal, salt and pepper until mixture is combined and sticks together. If the mixture seems lose, add another couple tbsp of matzo meal. Don’t add too much matzo meal because it will make your latkes too dense!

Add oil to the pan and let heat for 2 minutes. Add about 2 tbsp of latke mixture to the pan (careful not to crowd them) in batches and lightly brown on both sides. Flatten the latkes when you put them in the pan for more even cooking.

As latkes are taken out of the pan, but them on a baking sheet fitted with a cooling rack on top. This way, when you bake the latkes in the oven, they will crisp up on all sides. Bake until nice and crispy, about 10 minutes.

Looking for fun alternatives to the traditional latke? Try shredding other vegetables in combination with potatoes. As non-starchy vegetables are the least calorically dense foods, you can reduce the calories per latke by making them half potato/half vegetable. Remember to squeeze out the liquid after shredding from the vegetables too! Try these combos on for size:

Sweet potato, zucchini and/or yellow squash

Potato and cauliflower

Potato and leek (try it instead of onion!)

Potato and carrot

Potato and parsnip

Potato and pear or apple (sounds weird, but salty/sweet tastes great together!)

More vegetables with your latke means more room for vitamins, minerals, and fiber and less starch…You can justify eating just one more that way!

Keep latkes even lower in calories by choosing applesauce instead of sour cream. Try making your own applesauce and make interesting varieties like apple/pear/plum combos!

Happy Hanukkah everyone!!

--Amy Santo, MS RD CDN

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