Because my family is very reformed, and my interests have always directed me toward the appetizer table rather than the Hebrew school study group, I grew up believing that Hanukkah was the official holiday of the greasy potato.
Said appetizer table was always piled with latkes, pan-fried mini mounds of shredded potatoes. And the entree table was usually topped with kugel, larger mounds of shredded potato baked in a casserole dish in the oven. Needless to say, I also assumed having scabby knuckles by the end of Hanukkah season was an important cultural part of being Jewish.
About six years ago, my Hanukkah traditions changed drastically. Mainly, because my diet changed drastically.
After being diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, I spent the better part of my mid-20s trying to get on board with the health hand I was dealt, making slow and steady changes to my lifestyle (which you can read about in my book, The Wellness Project). Those changes included giving up gluten. They did not, definitively, include giving up greasy potatoes. But on Hanukkah they tended to be a packaged deal.
It was only when I started to brainstorm ways to make Hanukkah healthier that I realized it already kind of was. And that’s thanks to the holiday’s true culinary mascot: healthy fats.
This is also, coincidentally, much closer to the biblical interpretation. The Hanukkah miracle involves a scant amount of oil that magically kept the menorah candle flames burning for eight days! But as I said, I was very preoccupied with the potatoes.
While enjoying copious amounts of olive oil may not have been the idea of a healthy choice during my childhood (the '90s) we now know the benefits of a high-fat, low-sugar diet. The key is to make sure we use our fats properly, according to their burning point.
Olive oil, though more historically accurate, is sadly not the best option for high-heat pan-frying. You’re better off using coconut oil as your latke fat of choice. Kugel, on the other hand, bakes in the oven at a much more moderate temperature and is historically made with an ample amount of olive oil.
In this version, I give the old greasy potato a break and, instead, use a combination of sweet potatoes and parsnips. Coconut flour makes this recipe gluten-free, paleo, and Whole30-friendly. And it’s served alongside even more healthy fats/Hanukkah-themed oils in the form of a homemade aioli. A healthy Hanukkah miracle!