Potato latkes, a staple food of Hanukkah, are beloved by all ages at the Jewish holiday table. Who wouldn’t love a crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside potato cake – especially when the lily is gilded with sour cream and applesauce? But as comforting and delicious as traditional latkes are, they are heavy and dense, not exactly in keeping with today’s emphasis on healthful eating. Eliminating them from the Hanukkah observance, however, is not an option. Fried foods, like the latkes and jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot, are eaten during the eight nights of Hanukkah – also called the “Festival of Lights” — to symbolize the “miracle of the oil” at the Temple in Jerusalem after the Jews overthrew Syrian rule. They sought to rededicate their temple by burning sanctified oil in the menorah for eight days; although they only had one day’s worth of oil, the menorah miraculously remained lit.
Since latkes are a given for Hanukkah, which begins this year at sundown on Tuesday, Dec. 20, savvy Jewish cooks have added or substituted other ingredients for lighter, more nutritious alternatives that still honor the fried-food tradition. The Middle Eastern zucchini cakes with tahini sauce from “Kosher Revolution” are a perfect example of this trend and an indicator of author Geila Hocherman’s radical approach to kosher cooking.
Hocherman takes full advantage of the fact that there are now far more food products that are certified kosher than there were a generation ago. She offers a global approach to kosher cooking that incorporates ingredients like coconut milk, miso and Italian sausage – all only recently available as kosher-certified. Duck prosciutto and smoked turkey “ham” deliciously stand in for their non-kosher counterparts, and desserts like macadamia raspberry tart and crème brûlée are made possible by using nut milks.
Hocherman writes in her introduction: “Kosher is a set of rules, not a cuisine.” But within that framework – no mixing of dairy products and meat, no shellfish or pork, no fish and meat served on the same plate — there is more variety than you may have thought possible. Her mission is to “show you … how to make modern, blow-them-out-of-the-water kosher dishes, exciting contemporary food — from wine-braised short ribs to chicken satay with peanut sauce.”
And a tasty, healthy version of latkes I’ll make again.
MIDDLE EASTERN ZUCCHINI CAKES WITH TAHINI SAUCE
From “Kosher Revolution”: Like most people, I love latkes, but the traditional kind is a carb-fest — and not exactly light. This delicious all-zucchini version began when I was experimenting with Middle Eastern spices for Hanukkah meal making.
2 pounds zucchini, ends trimmed
3 small shallots, minced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup all-purpose flour, plus extra
1 large egg
½ cup canola oil, for frying
½ cup tahini, well stirred well
2 tablespoons orange juice or lemon juice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro
½ teaspoon salt
Place a colander in the sink. Using a food processor or a hand grater, shred the zucchini and transfer to the colander (or grate directly into it). Sprinkle the zucchini generously with the salt. Let the zucchini exude liquid, about 20 minutes, rinse under cool running water, then squeeze with your hands or in a kitchen towel to remove as much liquid as you canpossible.
Transfer the zucchini to a large bowl and add the shallots, garlic and cumin. Taste and season with salt, if necessary. Mix well and stir in the olive oil, baking powder, flour and egg.
Flour your hands and form the mixture into 24 rounds about 2 inches in diameter. Flatten the rounds and place on a plate. (The zucchini cakes can be made ahead and refrigerated, for 2 to 3 hours.)
To make the tahini sauce, combine all the ingredients plus ¼ to ¤ cup water in a medium bowl or immersion blender container and blend with an immersion blender until the consistency reaches toa thick cream. Alternatively, use a regular blender. If the mixture seems too thick, add more water by the tablespoon, blending after each addition. Adjust the seasoning and chill until ready to use.
In a large skillet, heat the canola oil over medium heat until a bit of the zucchini mixture immediately sizzles when added. Add the zucchini cakes and sauté until golden on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Turn, press to flatten and sauté about 1 minute more. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the cakes are done through, 5 to 8 minutes, turning once. Meanwhile, place paper towels on a wire rack. When the cakes are done, transfer them to the rack and blot the tops with additional paper towels. Serve hot with the sauce on the side.
Makes about 24.
Nutrition information per zucchini cake: 90 calories (72 percent from fat), 7 grams fat (1 gram saturated, 4 grams monounsaturated), 9 milligrams cholesterol, 2 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 134 milligrams sodium.
- Squeezing the water out of the grated zucchini is an important step – don’t be tempted to skip it.
- You may need to add more water to the tahini sauce to loosen it up after it has been chilled. Or you can add some extra-virgin olive oil to adjust the consistency.
- Before you shape the zucchini cakes, have a bowl of flour at the ready; you will need it to continue to flour your hands.
- Flip the zucchini cakes over away from you, so you don’t get splattered with hot oil.
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