I was raised Catholic. As such, I’ve never celebrated Hanukkah, but because Catholicism and Judaism share a lot of text, I learned about it during my 12 years of Catholic school (…that’s a story for another post. Or maybe a novel.) For those unfamiliar with it, Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights, an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. (Check out the Wikipedia page for more info.)
Religious contexts aside, I love stories where the little guy whoops the big guy, which is why I also love the story of Judith, a lesser known tale sometimes associated with Hanukkah. Here’s what The Shiksa in the Kitchen has to say about it:
The custom of eating dairy foods for Hanukkah dates back to the Middle Ages, when the Book of Judith played an important role in the Hanukkah narrative. Judith was a celebrated Jewish heroine who saved her village from an invading Assyrian army. A beautiful widow, she plied the Assyrian army’s general Holofernes with wine and salty cheese. When the general passed out drunk, Judith beheaded him with his own sword. The Israelites launched a surprise attack on the leaderless Assyrian army and emerged victorious. In Judith’s honor, we eat dairy foods during Hanukkah.
Though the Book of Judith is not considered a part of the official Jewish religious canon, the association between the Book of Judith and Hanukkah grew stronger during the Middle Ages. The Judith story predates the Maccabean Revolt; some scholars believe it is a reference to the real military events leading up to the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Whatever the case may be, this is one of my favorite Jewish stories, right up there with Queen Esther and the story of Purim. It’s got every element– a brave and beautiful heroine, an evil villain, wine, and cheese. What’s not to love?
So here’s a healthier version of the traditional potato latke–it’s baked with a little olive oil instead of fried with a lot of oil, and it’s got goat cheese in it to honor our butt-kicking heroine. Making latkes with beets instead of potatoes also gives them a nice rich color and a boost of antioxidants and folate. You can serve them on a spinach salad or with sautéed greens.
Beet-Walnut Latkes with Goat Cheese
1 tbsp EVOO
3 whole beets, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
1 cup carrots, shredded
1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 large egg whites, beaten
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
4 oz soft goat cheese
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line two baking sheets with foil and spray with cooking spray. Add a dab of EVOO to each pan and spread evenly with a BBQ brush.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine beets and carrots, and use a fork to mix well. Stir in thyme through lemon juice and mix well. Add egg whites and walnuts and mix well.
3. Crumble goat cheese, and use a spatula to fold gently into beet mixture, so that crumbles of cheese remain.
4. Use a spoon to scoop a heaping amount (about 3 tbsp) of the beet mixture for each latke. Place scoops on prepared baking sheets and press each into a flat pancake shape with the back of a spatula.
5. Bake for 15 minutes. Brush each latke with EVOO and flip over. Bake an additional 12-15 minutes, until latkes are firm and edges are crisp. Serve warm