The Festival of Lights is nearly upon us, and with it, the delicious feasts and cozy gatherings that are so necessary as the weather grows colder and the sun hides away. If you’re hosting a Hanukkah party or attending a family dinner, chances are there will be guests in attendance with various dietary restrictions. There is a growing trend in some Jewish communities toward vegetarian, vegan, or just more plant-based diets, but many of the traditional Hanukkah dishes are loaded with meat and dairy. How best to lighten up and veganize the classics so everyone can enjoy latke and kugel?
We turned to Rachel Klein, the chef/owner of Miss Rachel’s Pantry, a vegan catering company, meal delivery service and part-time restaurant in South Philadelphia. Rachel’s cooking is flavorful comfort food with a fresh edge, which she and her team handily showcase at their weekly Farmhouse Table dinners and at weddings and other special events across the city. The Pantry’s kitchen is certified Kosher, and Rachel, who is Jewish, has been refining her approach to vegan Jewish food for years. The result is modernized versions of the holiday foods she and her clients crave from their childhoods, with all of the flavor but none of the animal products of the originals.
Rachel was kind enough to share her techniques for veganizing three of the most iconic Hannukah dishes:
Kugel is a sweet or savory a kind pudding made from noodles or potatoes. Like most puddings, it usually relies heavily on egg and cream for a custard-y texture.
“I make a cream sauce for savory kugel by blending firm tofu, coconut milk and non-dairy cheese shreds in a blender. I typically season this mixture with salt, pepper, garlic and a fresh herb like thyme, and mix in mirepoix with pan-seared diced apple.”
Two more tips:
- If your ideal kugel recipe typically contains cream cheese, add a scoop of non-dairy yogurt to achieve that great tang.
- To replace egg noodles, look for store-bought dry pappardelle pasta that does not contain egg. In a real pinch, use fusilli.
Perhaps the most famous Hanukkah dish, latkes are potato pancakes. Traditional recipes call for eggs to bind the pancakes, which are then heavily fried in fat and topped with sour cream and apple sauce.
“I shred potatoes and fold in minced raw onion, prepared mashed potatoes (whipped in stand mixer on low, with plain soy milk, salt, pepper and either avocado oil or Earth Balance vegan butter) and breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs, I’ve found, are crucial to soaking up excess moisture in the mix and keeping everything together.
Two more tips:
- Russet potatoes work best for latkes.
- To firm the latkes up even further, first fry them in a bit of oil, then transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet and put them in an 350F degree oven uncovered for 10 minutes to firm them up even further.
Brisket is a popular Hanukkah centerpiece, which is obviously not suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Instead of forgoing a show stopping main dish, try a meat-free version made from seitan, a wheat-based protein.
“Wash the seitan and pull into bite size pieces. Toss in oil and bake first on a baking sheet for 10 minutes to make the texture chewier, then sauté with onions, garlic, fresh herbs and mushrooms in a pan until the onions are soft. Finally, add some tamari, vegetable stock and red wine to braise, and cook until half of the liquid has evaporated.
Two more tips:
- Serve this with mashed potatoes or pour everything over roasted veggies for a pot roast feel.
- This also makes a great filling for a vegetarian pot pie.
Happy Hanukkah! Do you have favorite dishes or vegan tips to share? Let us know in the comments!
Photo of the candles by Emily Kovach – Photo of Miss Rachel courtesy of Miss Rachel’s Pantry