• By Julie Stefanski
  • In Uncategorized
  • December 4, 2019

Adding Nutrition to Tradition Makes for a Healthier Future 

What does a girl from the Southern Mid-West, who grew up going to Catholic School, know about Latkes?

To be honest, until recently, not much. In fact, for the first 11 years of my life, Jesus was the only Jewish person that I knew.  Which, when in it comes to talking about Jewish traditions, holidays and cuisine, doesn’t give me much “cred.”

What I do know, is that latkes are delicious.

Often called potato pancakes, rounds fried crispy on the outside, melt in your mouth tender potato insides, are served warm with sour cream.

And for all I didn’t know growing up, I had been eating latkes all my life.   A resourceful cook, my mom would transform leftover mashed potatoes—a weekly staple into delectable fried nibbles.  Though I’d eat them year around, they make their holiday debut this time of year for Hanukkah.

The 8-day Festival of Lights, Hanukkah has a very ancient and turbulent back story in which the Jewish people were in conflict with the Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who intolerantly wanted the Jews to worship Greek gods.  The long battle was not without the loss of many Jewish lives and destruction of their Second Temple.  The victory at last came under the leadership of Judah Maccabee and brought the restoration of the Second Temple altar and historic lighting of the menorah.   Celebrating creation and light, the menorah burned through eight nights when there was only enough olive oil for one. It was a miracle!

This year Hanukkah is celebrated December 22-30 alongside Christmas reminding us of why our Pilgrim forefathers and mothers came to America—for religious freedom.  It is also a time when we can enjoy a taste of Jewish tradition.

Contrary to the potato latkes most Americans love, the first latkes were Italian in origin–more like a ricotta cheese blintz.

Still cooked in oil to remember the miracle, this version made use of dairy, specifically cheese, to remember the Syrian-Jewish conflict heroine Judith.

According to Tori Avey, The Shiksa in the Kitchen, Judith first attracted the attention of Holofernes, the Assyrian army general.  She then incapacitated him into a stupor with wine and cheese, before beheading him.  The village was then able to victoriously surprise the Assyrian army, thanks to Judith.  Today, the more common potato latkes are accompanied by a cooling dollop of sour cream.

When the Jews were kicked out of Sicily, they shared their medieval latke recipe with northern Italian Jews and the recipe spread.  And sometime in during the 1800’s out of the Eastern Europe breadbasket, the heartier potato pancakes emerged.  With other crops faltering, potatoes thrived and became the main latke ingredient for Ashkenazi Jews of Poland and the Ukraine.  Their adaptation made the version of latkes we now know best.

I can’t wait for you to try my version of latkes.  I’ve upped the veggies and added amazing flavor to the non-fat dairy topping.  My motto, even the most loved of traditions can benefit from a little evidence-based evolution when it comes to health.

If our body is our temple housing the light unique to each of us, finding healthier ways to remember the past can help sustain a heart-full enlightened future.

Potato-Carrot-Kale Latkes with Lemon Apricot Yogurt

Serves: 6, makes approximately 18-20 latkes

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time:  30 minutes

Not sure about kale?  Try 3 cups of fresh cups spinach in place of the kale.


  • 1 large baking potato, peeled (optional)and quartered lengthwise
  • 2 large carrots, peeled (optional)
  • 3-4 large leaves kale, stems removed, well chopped
  • 1/2 onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • Canola or avocado oil for frying

Using a coarse grating disk in the food processor, grate the potato, and onion; hand chop any large pieces. Transfer the mixture to a clean dish towel and squeeze out any excess liquid, then put into a large bowl. Process the carrots; hand chopping any large pieces. Add the carrots and the kale.  Using a fork, stir in the egg.  In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper.  Add the dry ingredients to the potato mixture and mix well.

In a large non-stick skillet, heat 1-2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat until hot.  Drop 2-tablespoon scoops of the mixture into the pan. Using the back of a spoon, flatten each dollop.  Cook the first side for about 5 minutes or until golden on the edges.  Turn and brown the other side, approximately 5 minutes more.  Adjust the heat as needed.  Drain on paper towels.  Repeat for each batch.

Lemon Apricot Yogurt

  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, soft
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  • ½ teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • pinch cayenne
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Zest half a lemon and set zest aside. Remove remaining peel, pith and seeds from the lemon half.  Into a small food processor blend the yogurt, lemon half, apricots, honey, cumin and cayenne.  Stir in zest and cilantro. Salt to taste.

Libby Mills, MS, RDN, LDN, FAND is a sought-after Culinary Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics known as a food and nutrition authority.  Libby markets and teaches nutrition through scrumptiously fun culinary experiences, as well as entertaining, imaginative communication to all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.  She engages audiences with experiences from her Midwestern roots, urban living, and endless quest for healthy, flavorful, good food. To learn more about her visit DigInEatUp.com and connect on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and listen to her radio show Libby’s Luncheonette live on WCHE1520AM Mondays from 12:15 to 1:00 pm ET.