It’s the time of the year to celebrate the festive holiday of Chanukah. My memories go back to my youngest years, maybe when I was 5 to 6 years old. And what I remember never left my mind or heart. 

The excitement began with us gathering around while Dad took down the big Chanukah box from the highest shelf in the closet. He would open the box and start parceling out the house decorations. It was us kids' job  to decide where everything went and begin the pasting and hanging. We would see where more was needed and we’d all get to work cutting and coloring. 

As busy as we were, we couldn’t ignore the aroma from the kitchen. We’d see Momma and Bubby busy mixing shredded potatoes with egg and matzo meal and frying latkes. It took two pans going steadily to make enough for all of us. We would each get to taste one or two to make sure everything was perfect.

When the dreidels came out, we knew the games would begin. After, of course, a fair distribution of foil-wrapped chocolate coins. This was serious stuff — you didn’t want to lose all your coins. Somehow, that never happened.

Lighting the candles, and the songs, it seemed like an eight-day long party.

Each night, there were wrapped presents. And for a special surprise, sometimes there were jelly-filled donuts. We all knew about the association of using oil-fried foods and the miracle of Chanukah when the single bottle of oil, supposed to last one day, lasted eight days until new oil could be squeezed from olives. We sang all about it. 

Now, nearly seven decades later, I remember it all, but I’ve had to update a few things. Now, I celebrate with different, healthier options. I haven’t given up the memories, I’ve simply added healthier choices.

Eggplant Latkes

Yield: 12-14 latkes

3 medium eggplants

4 large eggs

2 tablespoons flour for each ½ cup

of eggplant puree

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon black pepper

A minimal amount of oil for frying

Peel eggplant and cut into small cubes. Place eggplant in a large pot and cover with water, bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes until tender. Drain well in a colander and place on paper towels to dry. 

Puree cooked eggplant and measure puree so you know how much flour to use. 

Combine all ingredients. Heat oil in frying pan until very hot and drop mixture using ¼ cup measure. Cook about 3 to 4 minutes on each side until crisp and brown. Serve hot. 

Baked Vegetable Latkes

Yield: 40 patties. Serves 6-8

1 ½-2cups red or yellow or both peppers

½ pound cleaned and trimmed raw

spinach, chopped (2 cups)

1 pound potatoes boiled, mashed

Freshly ground pepper

Vegetable oil

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ cups grated carrots

6 tablespoons grated raw onion

3 eggs lightly beaten

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 cup matzo meal

Mince and saute peppers in olive oil until soft (about 15 to 20 minutes). 

Add all the remaining ingredients except vegetable oil and let the mixture stand for 30 minutes or overnight (refrigerated). 

When ready to cook, bring to room temperature. Make patties. Place on lightly greased baking sheet and place in preheated 250-degree oven for about 10 minutes, turn and bake another 10 minutes. This recipe by Tania Bobrick.

Anytime you can remove or reduce high-calorie ingredients, you create a healthier dish. Both of these recipes will give you all the trappings of Chanukah but won’t add to the degenerative diseases — diabetes, heart disease, liver problems — that are responsible for 60 % of the conditions that contribute to senior mortality.

Enjoy Chanukah, and remember that nothing tastes as good as being thin — and healthy — feels. JN

Eli Follick is a recovered Type 2 diabetic and a certified lifestyle trainer. He is dedicated to helping people make healthier choices. This article originally appeared in New Mexico Jewish Link.

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