This article appeared in the Dec. 19, 2008 Jewish Advocate.


How to avoid the "8 Days of Oil" (786 words, and recipes)

by Susie Davidson
Special to the Advocate

Fried foods are standard Chanukah fare, but you needn't fall into the trap of mindless jelly-donut and latke consumption. According to, the word sufganiya (plural sufganiyot) comes from the Hebrew sfog, which describes a spongelike texture, and means "puffed or fried." No thanks. A bite or two, sure, but those bites too easily translate into unwanted holiday pounds. And those post-holiday diets never work. Better to not get there in the first place and make low-fat, conscious eating a lifestyle. With some thought and innovation, it becomes so enjoyable, and feels so normal, you won't miss the grease. Truly!
"On Chanukah it's easy to eat more than you need to," says Pete Cohen, a resident of the Golders Green Jewish London neighborhood who runs the on-line weight management program "Stop before you eat," he advises, "to really consider the consequences of your actions, and ask yourself 'do I like this food enough that I want to wear it?'" Cohen says to imagine the excess food you eat stuck to your hips, bum and tum. "With those thoughts in mind, see if you really still want to eat that food," he says.
Calorie for calorie, oil is, however, at least better than the saturated fats - the butter, sour cream, egg yolks and heavy cream - because you can use the heart-healthy blends, or monosaturated canola, olive or grapeseed oil, or oils from nuts or avocados. And flaxseed oil will give you omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease cholesterol levels. But the key is moderation. So it's OK to enjoy them, sparingly.
Even though oil is important to the Chanukah theme, you can choose to skip it entirely and use fat-free subs like applesauce, egg whites, or fruit puree - prunes work well for this, or apple butter, or bananas. (We've come a long way from schmaltz, to our benefit!) In dairy recipes, use lowfat ricotta cheese for the fat. For greasing pans, the vegetable oil sprays work fine and cut even more fat.
Sites like will give you exact substitutions (wine or beer for butter?) and also detail expected changes in texture, and how to adjust (beating and folding the egg whites, using a bit more sugar, or a softer flour).
"When I moved to the Southwest, I experimented with Mexican style holiday foods," says Paul Aizley, a Brighton native and Univ. of Nevada math professor who was just elected a Nevada Assemblyman (state rep). Indeed, salsa instead of sour cream, spices instead of salt, or a more fibrous, less refined corn instead of oily potato base can be healthier choices.
Speaking of corn and potatoes, try to keep your protein level up and don't overdo it on the carbs. You will be on a much more even keel, more satisfied, and less sluggish (carbs give you a quick high, but a later, sustained crash). Pair those holiday treats with hard boiled egg whites, broiled fish or poultry, a handful of nuts (almonds, walnuts or pecans are the best as they contain omegas), baked tofu, or lowfat cottage cheese for dairy meals. Beans also add fiber and protein. And by all means, walk every day. If you don't have time, find a clear indoor path and pace with a pedometer, while reading your daily paper or gabbing on the phone, and see how quickly the miles add up. Aim for 10,000 (5 miles) and more steps a day.
Back to food. "The key to low-fat latkes is to bake them at a high temperature rather than fry them in oil," says Fiona Haynes, in's Guide to Low Fat Cooking. "To make them crispy, be sure to squeeze out as much moisture as you can, and preheat the cookie sheet before placing the latkes on it," she recommends. Try them with fat-free sour cream and applesauce.
As for those greasemonger jelly donuts, try baked or lighter versions. "The lighter they are, the 'better'," says Nina W. on Chowhound's sufganiyot page. "A heavy sufganiya means your dough didn't work right."
EatingWell Secrets of Low-Fat Cooking (©1997 by EW Communications, L.P.) outlines the procedure. "The secret to making delicious low-fat doughnuts lies in the pan, a mini-Bundt pan," the book states. "The roughly 9-by-13-inch pan comprises six fluted molds, each with a hole in the center, just like a large Bundt pan (you can also use a muffin tin, though they won't be like doughnuts). The technique calls for coating the molds with nonstick cooking spray and dusting with sugar before spooning in the batter.
Feel free to deviate further from the norm. In Israel, you can find sufganiyot made with chocolate, no-yeast and raised potato dough, with any number of fillings. Be creative, along with guiltless!


Baked Sufganiyot (from
This recipe makes: 24 doughnuts
1 package dry yeast (1 scant tablespoon)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup lukewarm water
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (approximately)
1 cup lukewarm skim milk
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt
grated zest of one lemon
3 tablespoons reduced fat butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup apricot jam (approximately)
confectioner's or granulated sugar for rolling
1. Dissolve the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar in the water.
2. Put the flour in the bowl of a food processor equipped with a steel blade. Add the dissolved yeast, milk, egg, egg yolk, salt, lemon zest and the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Process until blended. Add the butter and process until the dough becomes sticky yet elastic.
3. Remove the dough to a bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place for at least an hour. If you want to prepare the dough in advance, place it in the refrigerator overnight, then let it warm to room temperature before rolling and cutting.
4. Grease 2 cookie sheets. Dust a pastry board with flour. Roll the dough out to a 1/2-inch thickness. Using the top of a glass as a cutter, cut into rounds about 2-inches in diameter and roll these into balls. Place the balls about 1 to 1 1/2-inches apart on the greased cookie sheets. Cover and let rise 30 minutes more.
5. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the doughnuts for 12 to 15 minutes or until they're golden. Remove from the oven and let cool.
6. Soften the jam in a food processor. Using an injector (available at cooking stores), insert a teaspoon of jam into each doughnut. Roll the soufganiyot in confectioner's or granulated sugar and serve immediately.
Serving Size: 1 doughnut
Number of Servings: 24
Per Serving
Calories 118 Carbohydrate 23 g
Fat 1 g Fiber 0 g
Protein 3 g Saturated Fat 1 g
Sodium 21 mg


Fiona Haynes' Lo Fat Potato Latkes
(enjoy with fat-free sour cream and homemade applesauce)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold or Russet Potatoes
1 medium onion
1/4 cup flour
2 egg whites
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Peel, cut and shred potatoes and onion, using either a grater or a food processor.
Place a large cookie sheet in hot oven.
Empty shredded potatoes and onion into a colander and squeeze out as much excess moisture as you can.
Transfer potato and onion mixture to a large bowl. Add flour, egg whites and black pepper, and combine well with a fork.
Remove cookie sheet from oven. Coat with nonstick cooking spray
Form 2-2 1/2-inch flattened rounds with the potato mixture and place on hot cookie sheet.
Return cookie sheet to oven and cook for 7-8 minutes each side, until crisp and golden.
Makes 12-15 latkes.
Serves 4-5
Per Serving: Calories 192, Calories from Fat 2, Total Fat 0.5g (sat 0g), Cholesterol 0mg, Sodium 39mg, Carbohydrate 41.1g, Fiber 3.8g, Protein 6.6g
Lighter (Baked) Latkes (from
Ingredients and instructions:
Prepare your favorite recipe, but substitute one egg white for each of the whole eggs.
Be sure to use baking potatoes instead of boiling potatoes.
Brush a baking sheet with a scant

--Susie Davidson, M.Ed.
Freelance journalist, author and poet
Co-Coordinator, Boston chapter, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life
Board member, Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow
Filmmaker, “The Holocaust: Memory and Legacy”

Speaker and Event Planner on the Holocaust and global genocide
Geriatric Care Manager