Hanukkah begins this evening, Dec. 12. These eight days of holiday celebrate the miracle of the oil, and are marked by lighting candles and by cooking and frying foods with oil.
One of the classic Hanukkah dishes is latkes — just about everybody loves these fried potato pancakes. But not every plate of latkes has to be the same.
I enjoy taking a traditional dish like this one and infusing it with elements from other culinary cultures I admire — in this case, Indian and Persian cuisine — while boosting flavor and nutrition.
With sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes and heart-healthy grape seed oil replacing vegetable oil, these latkes gain dietary fiber and antioxidants while losing absolutely nothing in flavor.
Anardana powder — ground from dried pomegranate seeds — adds a pleasing tang. Inflammation-fighting turmeric and the cheerful duo of cinnamon and nutmeg add both flavor and health benefits.
Instead of eggs, tahini provides the binding. Finish the fried latkes with some sweet pomegranate molasses and you have a vegan dish fit for Hanukkah that would make a special treat any time of the year.
A bit more about anardana powder: This sweet and tangy souring agent was discovered by Indian cooks. The sour pomegranate seeds are slowly air-dried, then ground and used mostly with legumes and vegetables. Like most souring agents, its alkaline nature balances the acidity in foods.
Pomegranate seeds are rich in vitamins, potassium and fiber, with dietary benefits recognized by both ancient and modern health traditions.
Sweet pomegranate molasses is used mostly in Persian cuisine. Fresh pomegranates are commonly eaten in the Middle East and appreciated for their beauty and fruitfulness. In the U.S., pomegranate juice is found in supermarkets and the fruit is often included in Christmas decorations.
As a child in Israel, I used to go with my friend to harvest pomegranates from our generous neighbor’s yard. We would fill a bucket with fresh fruit and then, in a very therapeutic and relaxing way, fill a large container with the separated seeds.
No one was allowed to eat till the whole bucket was emptied. Then we ate the whole container of seeds on the spot, with joy and smiles.
A little bit more about Hanukkah: After the Maccabean revolt drove Greek emperor Antiochus from Jerusalem more than 2,200 years ago, there was just enough oil left to light the menorah in the rededicated temple for a single day. Miraculously, the oil held out for a full eight days, now celebrated worldwide as Hanukkah.
Now let’s use some oil and fry some latkes.
Vegan Sweet Potato Latkes with Anardana
4 cups grated sweet potatoes
1 cup graded onion, water squeezed out through a dry clean towel
1/2 cup tahini
2 Tbsp. anardana powder
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1/2 tsp. coarselt ground black pepper
½ tsp. cinnamon powder
1 tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. nutmeg powder
Grapeseed oil for frying
Pour about 1/8 inch of oil in a large nonstick skillet and heat to medium.
Mix all other ingredients in a large bowl.
With a damp hands, create ping-pong size balls of the mixture and flatten each to about 3/8 on an inch.
Place in the hot oil and fry over medium heat until golden brown.
Arrange latkes on a serving plate and drizzle some pomegranate molasses, to taste.
Tip: treat latkes gently, so they don’t break.