WHEN I WAS a child, Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, was celebrated at my Aunt Helen's. My brothers, parents and I, as well as a host of aunts and uncles and cousins, came dressed in our holiday finest to light the Menorah, weasel Hanukkah gelt out of the uncles, and to sample my aunt's golden fried potato latkes.
Stuffed with latkes and hefty dollops of rich sour cream or applesauce, we cousins raced to the basement for games of dreidel and other rambunctious play.
But the best part of Hanukkah was my aunt's culinary talents. Since those memorable gatherings, many things have changed. Those of us who were toddlers and pre-teens are now parents, valiantly trying to keep traditions alive for our own families. Unfortunately, we are also battling more mature waistlines and cholesterol levels and thus see the flavorful, but fatty foods of Hanukkah with a new perspective.
Even my aunt recently mentioned that frying batches of potato pancakes had less appeal. (One of her solutions is to take all the grated potatoes and incorporate them into one of her sublime potato kugels, or puddings.)
These days, few people would contest that less fat, especially that derived from animals (egg yolks, butter) is better. And though at holiday time many of us are tempted to forget diets, the typical Hanukkah menu represents a mine-field of diet "don'ts" that most of us cannot afford to ignore.
Somewhere between lacing every item with oat bran or doing away with sheer good taste altogether lies a balance of good-for-you and good-tasting foods that keep to the holiday theme.
The recipes that follow represent the Hanukkah meal revamped for '90s tastes. They rely on a variety of techniques to lower calories, fat and cholesterol, while keeping within a traditional culinary framework.
GIANT POTATO LATKES
8medium potatoes, (preferably red-skinned) pared and grated
1large onion, peeled and grated
5egg whites, beaten just to blend
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4tablespoons all-purpose flour
1teaspoon baking powder
1to 2 tablespoons oil, for frying (such as safflower or corn)
Grate the potatoes and let sit in cold water. Drain well after 15 minutes. Repeat twice and dry potatoes well. Grate the onion and add to the potatoes, mixing well. Add the remaining ingredients.
In an 8-inch non-stick pan, heat the oil to just smoking. Spoon in half the potato batter and flatten to fill pan. Cook until dark golden in color. Turn over once, reduce heat to medium to slowly finish cooking other side. Drain on paper towels.
To keep warm or re-heat, place latke on a wire cooling rack set over a baking sheet. Keep warm in an oven heated to 250 to 300 degrees.
Repeat with remaining batter. Cut into wedges to serve. Serve with fresh yogurt and sprinkle with fresh minced herbs such as parsley, chives, and dill. Can also be offered with unsweetened applesauce. Recipe makes 2 large pancakes, 4 to 6 servings each.
VEGETABLE LITE LATKES OR PANCAKES
1cup grated and drained zucchini
1cup grated carrots
1cup grated parsnips
3sprigs shallots, minced fine
3egg whites, beaten slightly
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
1tablespoon fresh minced parsley
Garnish: shreds of zucchini peel, lemon zest and fresh parsley
Safflower or corn oil for frying
Herbed yogurt, recipe follows
Mix together ingredients in the order given. Drop by large spoonfuls in a non-stick fry pan filled about 1/4 -inch with oil. Reduce heat and cook until browned on one side then turn over and cook remaining side. Keep warm on a cookie sheet in a 250-degree oven. Makes about 2 dozen 2-inch latkes or pancakes. To serve, garnish with shreds of zucchini peel, lemon zest and fresh parsley. Serve with Herbed Yogurt. (Latkes can be frozen.)
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
Tiny pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh minced dill
2teaspoons fresh minced parsley
Tiny pinch basil
Mix ingredients together. Chill. Serve with potato or vegetable pancakes.
CHICKEN SOUP WITH DILL AND MATZOH CLOUDS
4quarts water (or just enough water to cover chicken)
1chicken (3-pound) cut up
1pound chicken wings
1medium onion, quartered
1/4 cup fresh minced parsley
1/2 cup pressed firm, fresh dill (or about 1/3 of a bunch)
Salt, pepper to taste
Garnish: fresh minced dill
Matzoh Clouds, recipe follows
Place chicken in a large stock pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and skim any foam that forms. Reduce heat to medium, allowing soup to boil very gently, and add remaining ingredients.
Let cook about 2 hours. Let rest, refrigerated overnight.
Skim fat with a slotted spoon. Remove any additional loose fat using a large lettuce leaf. Strain soup of all vegetables and chicken.
Reheat broth slowly, and add back in choice pieces of chicken, if desired. Adjust seasonings. Sprinkle on additional minced dill. Meanwhile, prepare dumplings. Makes 12 servings.
MATZOH MEAL CLOUDS
1cup matzoh meal
2tablespoons corn oil
2tablespoons chicken broth or soup
Salt, pepper to taste
Beat egg whites until stiff; set aside. Beat together egg yolks, oil, broth and salt and pepper. Fold in egg whites to blend and allow mixture to stand 5 minutes. Form batter into small balls and add to gently boiling chicken soup. (If batter is too sticky to handle, grease hands lightly.) Allow to cook, covered, 30 to 40 minutes. Makes about 16 to 20 dumplings.
CARROT GELT OR CARROT COINS
3 1/2 cups carrots cut into rounds about 1/8 -inch thick
1tablespoon unsalted margarine
1tablespoon marmalade or apricot jam
1tablespoon maple syrup or brown sugar
Pinch salt and pepper
Cook carrots in water until just tender but not falling apart. Toss with margarine, marmalade or jam, and maple syrup until well coated. Season lightly and serve. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
HANUKKAH COMPANY CHICKEN
2 1/2 to 3-pound chicken, cut up into 10 parts
1/3 cup flour, approximately
2tablespoons olive oil
2cups low-salt chicken stock or bouillon
1cup white wine
1large bay leaf
1large garlic clove, minced
1medium onion, cut in eighths
4medium carrots, cut in sections lengthwise
2large leeks, cut up
3ribs celery with leaves, cut
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 cup mushrooms, optional
Pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment or foil. Place chicken pieces on sheet.
With a pastry brush, lightly coat skin side of chicken parts with some olive oil. Pat some flour on each piece lightly and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until chicken is golden brown. Remove from oven and place in a large oven-proof casserole. Reduce heat to 350 degrees.
Pour chicken stock and wine on top. Add remaining ingredients. Bake chicken 45 to 60 minutes, spooning liquid over top of chicken occasionally. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
HANUKKAH WHITE FRUITCAKE
1/2 cup brandy
2teaspoons pure vanilla
1 1/2 cups yellow raisins
1/2 cup dried pears, coarsely diced
1cup dried apricot halves, quartered
1/2 cup currants
1/2 cup chopped canned and drained (unsweetened) pineapple chunks
1/2 cup blanched pistachio nuts
1/4 cup slivered toasted almonds
3/4 cup unsalted margarine
1 3/4 cups icing sugar, measured then sifted
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Plump dried fruits (excluding pineapple) by letting soak in very hot water for 5 minutes. Drain well and cover with brandy and vanilla. Let sit overnight. Drain well (discard liquid) and mix with nuts.
Generously grease a 10-inch tube pan or a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream the butter until softened and blend in the icing sugar. Add egg whites to blend (if batter is curdled in appearance, sift in some of the flour to bind it). Stir in flour, and soda, scraping down sides of bowl often. Fold in fruit and nut mixture. Spoon into prepared pan(s). Reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake until cake tests done, about 50 to 60 minutes. Invert cake once cooled, and dust with icing sugar. (This cake needs no aging but should be well-wrapped and refrigerated.) Makes 10 to 12 servings.
LITE AND CRISP MANDELBROT
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon, minced fine
3large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup whole almonds, blanched
Grease a small loaf pan (7 by 3 1/2 inches). (A small, disposable foil pan works well.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare citrus zests. Whip the egg whites slowly, dusting in sugar gradually. As egg whites begin to foam increase whipping speed and whip until stiff and glossy. Fold in zests, flour and almonds.
Spoon into prepared pan. Bake until lightly browned on top, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool in pan. Remove and wrap tightly in foil. Refrigerate until next day.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut loaf in slices, about 1/4 -inch thick. Place on a cookie sheet and bake until golden on one side. Turn over and brown other side. First side should take 15 minutes -- remaining side about 10 to 12 minutes. Makes about 2 dozen cookies or slices.