The miracle of oil

Hanukka is replete with religious symbolism, reflected in the holiday cuisine.

Bimuelos are eaten on Hanukka by the Sephardic community  (photo credit: MCT)
Bimuelos are eaten on Hanukka by the Sephardic community
(photo credit: MCT)
Any way you look at it, Hanukka is not exactly the healthiest or the most slimming holiday.
You could eliminate the oil, and many do, by baking the doughnuts or latkes in the oven instead of frying them, but what is the point? Eating a baked doughnut or a baked latke on Hanukka has the same religious symbolism as eating a hard-boiled egg. The oil is the whole point! Here are some practical tips to help minimize the impact Hanukka will have on your cholesterol level and your waistline.Use healthier oil. For deep frying (doughnuts and latkes), the healthiest options are light olive oil (“light” refers to color), nut oil (almond, hazelnut, walnut, etc.
Peanut oil is also good if you are not allergic), sunflower oil and canola oil. (There is much controversy surrounding canola oil, which I am not going to get into. But whatever its drawbacks, it is low in cholesterol and saturated fats.) As the oil gets healthier, the price goes up accordingly.
Let doughnuts rise, and drain well. Well risen, highly aerated yeast doughnuts retain less oil than those that are dense and insufficiently risen. The oil will drain more quickly and more efficiently from lighter doughnuts. Therefore, let your doughnuts rise well before frying, and let them drain adequately after frying. The end result will be doughnuts that are less oily and less caloric.
Fry at the correct temperature. The correct frying temperature for doughnuts with holes in the center is one to two minutes on each side at 170°. For solid, sufganiyot-type doughnuts, the frying temperature is 150° for four to five minutes on each side. Doughnuts fried at too low a temperature will soak up extra oil. Most importantly, do not heat the oil to the smoking point, as this releases toxic fumes that are harmful to your health.
You may purchase a low-cost insertion cooking thermometer at any kitchenware store for this purpose.
Savory instead of sweet doughnuts.
The tradition is the oil – nobody said anything about its having to be sweet. Instead of the regular sugar-laden variety, try a savory doughnut with one or more of the following fillings – onion, garlic, spices, etc. If you must go the sweet route, use a healthier sweetener, such as honey or silan and stay away from artificial sweeteners.
Use whole-grain flour. It is higher in fiber than white flour and will lessen the caloric shock to your system. Whole grain flour also contains many healthy nutrients that are missing from refined white flour.
Remember, Hanukka is only once a year. Many people spend months dreading Hanukka and the effect it will have on their figure and health. Even if you binge, it is only for eight days. The damage you can do in eight days is easily reversible.
Sometimes allowances must be made for “soul-food” – i.e., food that is healthy for the soul as much as for food that is healthy for the body.
This fried honey puff is traditionally eaten on Hanukka by the Sephardic community, especially those originating from Spain, Greece and Turkey.
Batter✔ 2 tsp. instant dry yeast✔ 1 cup warm water✔ ½ tsp. sugar✔ ¼ tsp. salt✔ 1 egg✔ 2 cups flour
Syrup✔ 1 cup sugar✔ ½ cup honey✔ ¾ cup water✔ 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Mix batter ingredients until smooth. Leave to rise for 1 hour, covered. While it is rising, prepare the syrup. Mix syrup ingredients in a pan and bring to a boil, stirring only until sugar is dissolved. After boiling point, lower heat and boil for 5 minutes more. Let cool and set aside. Stir down batter mixture. Fill a wok/pan with oil 3 to 5 cm. deep and heat to about 190°.
Dip tablespoon in hot oil and then use it to scoop up a spoonful of batter. Drop the batter into the oil (you may wet your hand to help get it off the spoon and into the oil).
The batter puffs to twice the size. Fry until golden brown. Remove from oil and drain on paper towel. Completely dip into syrup and let excess drain away. Coat generously with cinnamon and eat while warm.
Master baker Les Saidel, is the owner of Saidels Bakery (, specializing in hand-made, organic health breads and the inventor of Rambam Bread.
He also works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health and nutrition..