The holidays are no time to leave out anyone when it comes to sharing special foods, so why not light up Chanukah for everyone regardless of particular dietary needs? It seems more and more people have more and more food requirements, but there are lots of ways to check many boxes all at once, including vegan latkes with great taste and texture.
Come on, now. Don’t be intimidated by the word “vegan.” It just means free of all animal products including eggs and dairy. It’s easy to make them gluten-free as well. Check, check and check.
Trust me: No one will know the difference. Make them for the masses, and if you’re worried about people’s reactions, don’t tell anyone except those lucky individuals to whom any of this matters. Then sit back and watch them enjoy along with everyone else.
Making a vegan, gluten-free potato latke from starchy white potatoes is not a problem. Shred the potatoes, add grated onions, set the mixture in a strainer over a large bowl and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Carefully drain the water out of the bowl, keeping the white potato starch residue. Put the potato-onion mixture into the bowl with the starch, add salt and pepper to taste and start dropping tablespoonfuls into hot oil, flattening gently with the back of a spatula. Soon enough, you’ll have those traditional favorites for everyone.
Sweet potatoes, however, are a different story. They don’t have the same starchiness that helps hold together the white potatoes. So, the challenging part of creating a vegan sweet potato latke was finding something to replace the egg, and I don’t mean fake powdered eggs because they taste…well, fake.
As most vegans know, there’s a miraculous transformation that ground flaxseed undergoes when left to sit in water for 15 minutes. It becomes a wonderfully gelatinous substitute for eggs. Each tablespoon of the flaxseed mixed in three tablespoons of water takes the place of one egg. Coconut and potato flours complete the binding of the latkes while the rest of the ingredients deliver layers of flavor. Truth is, you can make this latke with other shredded vegetables, including carrots and zucchini. Have fun experimenting.
Any good latke deserves a good applesauce, but be prepared. This could change your view of applesauce forever. Once you’ve made your own, you won’t be able to go back to the mass-produced varieties. It’s one of the simplest and most comforting of the comfort foods. My only rule for homemade applesauce is no added sugar. Feel free to mix up the kinds of apples.
As for the question of chunky or smooth, I leave that to your personal preference. I’m a smooth person myself, but my sister Melanie always makes it chunky, prompting my two nieces to long-ago name it, more appropriately, “Apple Yum.” Either way, the challenge is to not eat so much of it straight from the pot while it is warm that you have to make more for everyone else.
We’re not done yet. Keeping every vegan, lactose-intolerant and gluten-free guest along with all your “regular” guests at your Chanukah gatherings happy doesn’t stop at latkes, delicious as they are. Since oil is the star here, any good salad with an olive oil-based dressing checks not only the holiday box, but the healthy one as well. Black-Eyed Pea Salad isn’t just for Rosh Hashanah, but makes a good protein-packed option to serve with latkes. Hummus drizzled with olive oil checks the right boxes, as does the popular Israeli Salad.
Use your imagination a bit and you can come up with fun interactive ideas like an olive oil tasting using gluten-free bread sticks for dipping, along with an option of small pieces of fresh, crusty bread.
Just remember, no need for fear or angst to get those dietary boxes checked as part of a miraculous Chanukah celebration.
Some latke-making tips:
• Bump up the flavor and health benefits by using healthy oil that can take high heat. Two of my favorites are avocado and safflower. Mixing in some coconut oil, too, will add some extra flavor.
• Flip latkes only once, never back and forth.
• Make sure to get a good deep golden brown on each side, which gives the latke enough time to cook through.
• Clean out little bits of latke that fall off into oil because as you cook, they will burn and change the taste of the oil.