Tonight, the Jewish holiday of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, begins and lasts for 8 nights. Chanukah is probably one of the most well-known Jewish holidays among non-Jews, mostly because it typically falls around Christmas time, and shares some parallels with Christmas (gift-giving, lots of eating, family time). This year, however, the first day of Chanukah – November 28 – will fall on American Thanksgiving, and according to LiveScience, it won’t happen again for about 70,000 years (For an explanation of how the Jewish calendar works, click here).
As with many (read: most) Jewish holidays, food is used to symbolize many aspects of the story of Chanukah. And, as in most Jewish stories, the mantra is ‘They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat’; Chanukah is no different!
About 2000 years ago, The Greek King Antiochus, who reigned over Jerusalem at the time, outlawed Jewish religious rites and traditions kept by observant Jews; he ordered the worship of Zeus as the supreme god. The Jews, for obvious reasons, were not willing to give up their religion, and when they refused, Antiochus sent an army to enforce his decree. A group of resisters, led by Judah and called the Maccabees, fought against the Greek army, and although the city was destroyed, and many were slaughtered, the smaller, Jewish army won. During the war, the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed (what is left of this temple is known as the Western Wall). When the Jews returned to piece the temple back together, they found a tiny jug of oil to light the temple’s candelabra, and instead of the oil lasting for 1 day, as expected, it lasted for 8 days. For a really adorable explanation of the story of Chanukah (and to see why a Jewish education is worth every penny!), check out this cute video from the students at Bialik Hebrew Day School.
To commemorate the miracle of the oil, Jews eat foods that are fried in oil, including latkes and suvganiot (jelly donuts). There is also a tradition of eating foods with cheese in them (click here to read why), but all this lovely stuff can take a toll on your waistline.
While latkes are traditionally made with shredded potatoes, you can really use just about anything you want! Below, I’ve gone for a more nutritious take on the latke by using spinach and feta cheese in place of the potatoes, and rather than deep frying them, I’ve used a small amount of oil in a frying pan (you could spray your pan and avoid the oil altogether, but it is Chanukah, after all!). I had ambitious plans to try a celery root latke recipe, but after taking one look at the vegetable while standing in the aisle of the grocery store, I decided my time would be better spent writing this post!
Lightened Up Latkes: Spinach and Feta Cheese Latkes
2 packages of frozen chopped spinach, cooked and drained really well
1/3 cup crumbled light feta cheese
1/4 to 1/3 cup matzah meal (bread crumbs will work too)
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
2-3 tbsp liquid egg whites
salt and pepper to taste
oil (or spray) for frying
- Ensure spinach is well drained. Mix all ingredients together by hand in a medium mixing bowl, folding to incorporate. If mixture isn’t holding together well enough, add a little more matzah meal and/or egg whites.
- Heat oil in a frying pan, then scoop out a heaping soup spoon’s worth of the mixture and form into a patty with your hands. Carefully place in frying pan, and repeat until frying pan is full, and cook over medium heat.
- Cook on one side for about 5-8 minutes, then carefully flip over once and cook for an additional 5 minutes, making sure not to burn latkes.
- Remove from pan and place on a plate lined with paper towel to remove excess oil. Repeat with remaining mixture, and serve hot or cold.
Enjoy and Chag Sameach!