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Cooking: Festival Favorites—and Gluten-Free
by Tina D. Wasserman

Photograph by Rose Eichenbaum

Recently, a Reform Judaism magazine reader with celiac disease wrote a letter to the editors asking for suggestions about how she could join her friends and family in sharing meals together during holidays. She and others with celiac disease are unable to absorb necessary nutrients from food if the food contains gluten, typically found in wheat, barley, rye, and sometimes oats. This column is a response to her and to others interested in preparing gluten-free dishes, particularly for the Jewish holidays. If removing gluten from your menu seems like too large an undertaking, don’t worry: The recipes that follow use fresh ingredients and alternative grains.

I hope the Chanukah recipes I have created will be a welcome addition to your holiday table. Eat in good health!

Sweet Potato and Carrot Latkes

Ethiopians have long known the positive uses for flaxseeds in their foods and drink. These small, oblong, brown seeds contain several essential nutrients and add a slight nutty flavor and crunch to cereals, baked goods, and casseroles. When combined with moisture, crushed flaxseed will produce a mucoid substance that resembles egg whites. In this form it can be used in mixtures and batters to bind the food together and replaces the need for gluten as a binding agent. Whichever form of flaxseed you use in the following recipe, your finished pancake will be delicious.

Flaxseed adds a similar crunch to latkes as does matzo meal (which contains wheat gluten). To honor the Jewish presence in Ethiopia since the time of King Solomon, I spiced these latkes with the ubiquitous flavors of Ethiopian cuisine.

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
1⁄2 pound carrots, peeled
1 small onion, cut into eighths
1 large clove garlic, cut into 3 pieces
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
15 grindings of black pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1⁄2 teaspoon dried oregano, or 1⁄2 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1⁄2 teaspoon dried basil, or 1⁄2 Tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 large eggs
1⁄4 to 1⁄3 cup whole or ground flaxseed
Canola or peanut oil

  1. Cut the sweet potatoes and carrots into 11⁄2 inch chunks and grate them using the fine grating disk on a processor or using the larger holes on a hand grater. Set aside.

  2. Place onion and garlic pieces in a processor workbowl with the metal blade. Pulse the machine on and off until the onions are finely chopped. Return 1⁄2 of the potato/carrot mixture to the processor workbowl and pulse on and off about 5 times to combine the ingredients. Empty mixture into a 3 quart bowl. (NOTE: if you don’t have a processor, grate the onion and chop some of the potato carrot mixture into a fine chop.)

  3. Add the spices and the eggs and 1⁄4 cup of the flaxseed or ground flaxseed to the mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Add a little more flaxseed if mixture seems too loose and watery. Do not make the mixture too firm or finished product will be dry and heavy.

  4. Heat a large skillet or griddle for 20 seconds. Add enough carrot or peanut oil to totally cover the bottom of the pan. Heat oil for 10 seconds.

  5. Stir contents of bowl every time before you scoop some of the mixture. Drop 2 Tablespoons of potato/carrots in to the hot pan. Repeat with more mixture to fill pan but do not over crowd.

  6. When bottoms of pancakes are golden, gently turn them over using a slotted spatula and another utensil. When golden on the second side remove to a plate that is covered with crumpled paper towels.

  7. Proceed with the remaining mixture.

  8. Serve plain or with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt.

Tina’s Tidbits

  • Sweet potatoes do not have the same amount of starch as white potatoes so there is no need to rinse them after grating like I normally suggest with white potatoes.

  • When used whole in a recipe, gluten-free flaxseed will add texture and nutrients; when used ground, it will absorb the liquid in the mixture and act as a binding agent.

  • Because flaxseed is high in fat content, it is best stored in the freezer so that it won’t get rancid.

  • When eggs are used as a binding agent in batters, it is a good idea to occasionally stir the contents of your bowl to keep the egg evenly distributed; all of your pancakes will then hold together during cooking.

Sweet Potato Spiced Sufganyot

These donuts are very easy to make. Plus, using sweet potato not only adds great flavor, but replenishes some of the fiber that’s lost when using gluten-free flour.

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1⁄3 cup cooked, peeled sweet potato
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice or vinegar
1⁄4 cup honey
11⁄2 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flour
1⁄2 cup brown rice flour
1⁄2 cup rice flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon nutmeg
1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
Canola oil for frying
Approximately 3⁄4 cup grape, raspberry, or strawberry jelly (not preserves or jam)
1⁄2 cup sugar combined with 1 teaspoon cinnamon for coating (optional)

  1. Place the butter in a 3-quart glass bowl and microwave on high for 45 seconds until melted. Add the cooked sweet potato and whisk until the potatoes are smooth and the butter is completely incorporated.

  2. Combine the milk with the lemon juice or vinegar and let rest for 1 minute. Add this to the sweet potato mixture. Mix in the honey. Whisk to combine.

  3. In a 2-quart bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

  4. Add the flour/spice to the liquid ingredients, gently folding the mixture with a whisk until just combined. Let rest for 10 minutes.

  5. Crumple paper towels, place them on a large plate or platter, and set aside.

  6. Place the jelly in a pastry bag fitted with a plain metal or plastic tip with a one eighth-inch opening (#0 is the size to buy from a store selling cake decorating supplies). Set aside.

  7. Transfer the cinnamon/sugar mixture to a soup bowl. Set aside.

  8. Add enough oil to fill a fryer, wok, or electric pan to a depth of approximately 2 inches. Heat at 375ºF or on medium high heat. Do not let the oil smoke.

  9. Using a 1-ounce food portion scoop or ice cream scoop with a release wire, gently scoop up a portion of the batter and place it into the hot oil. Quickly repeat with 5 more scoops of batter. Do not
    stir the batter as you proceed.

  10. When the donuts look golden on the underside (about 1-2 minutes), gently turn them over. Continue to fry them until golden brown and puffed up (about another 2 minutes). They shouldn’t be too light or too dark.

  11. Immediately place the donuts on the crumpled paper towels and allow them to drain while you cook another batch.

  12. In between frying, toss the slightly cooled but hot donuts in the sugar mixture (if desired) and set on a new plate.

  13. When all the donuts are done, fill each one with about 1 teaspoon of jelly by holding the donut in one hand and inserting the tip of the pastry bag 1⁄2 inch into the donut. Gently squeeze the bag until you begin to see the jelly show on the outside of the opening. Alternatively, you can make a 1-inch opening in the doughnut, use a spoon to place the jelly in the center, and then close the doughnut. However, this method is not as pretty or as easy as using a pastry bag and tip.

  14. Serve immediately or within 1–2 hours for the best consistency. Do not cover (or the doughnuts will become heavy and dry).

Yield: approximately 18 sufganyot.

Tina’s Tidbits

  • If you use gluten-free flour, it should not change the flavor of your finished product, but can have a big effect on its consistency. Gluten provides the protein structure of a baked good, allowing it to stretch and rise when the leavening agent creates carbon dioxide; its absence can result in a dense, pasty product. For a good consistency, incorporate an additive such as xanthan gum or guar gum, both of which are now available to the home cook. Also, since gluten-free flours are generally light, medium, or heavy in texture, when substituting one flour for another, make sure its texture is the same weight/density. For more information and recipes, read Karina Allrich’s blog, “The Gluten-free Goddess,” or visit the Celiac Sprue Association's website. For Jewish recipes, including challah, mondel brod, and potato kugel, visit “Arnel's Originals: Good and Gluten Free,” the blog of Arnel McAtee of Temple Beth Torah, Ventura, California.

  • It is extremely important to handle gluten-free dough as little as possible to preserve any layers of air trapped in the batter. Using a scoop and not scraping down the sides of the bowl creates a lighter baked good.

  • The smaller the circumference of your pan, the less oil you will need to achieve a good depth for frying foods. If you don’t have a deep fryer, a wok or a 3-quart saucepan are good alternatives.

Tina D. Wasserman, a member of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, is the author of the URJ Press book, Entree to Judaism. She also teaches at her own cooking school, writes a kosher cooking newsletter on the Internet, and serves as a culinary scholar-in-residence throughout the U.S. and Europe.


To watch Tina’s free cooking videos, click here. For answers to your cooking questions, email


Union for Reform Judaism.