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A lighter approach to holiday celebrations

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There's no need to go too crazy with eating this holiday season. Have a healthier dish like grilled potato pancakes with smoked fish.

By Wolfgang Puck

It often puzzles me the way people who love good food go wild during the holiday season and then, just days later, try to change their personalities and habits completely and become healthy eaters the moment they have made their New Year’s resolutions.

In my life as a chef, I have gradually evolved a personal approach to cooking and eating that helps me avoid such wild swings between overeating and self-deprivation. And I’d like to share some of those principals with you as we make our way into the final weeks of the holiday season and get ready for 2016.

I believe that really delicious food doesn’t have to be unhealthy. But healthy food doesn’t have to be boring either, as if it is some sort of punishment you are forced to eat. As a chef since the age of 14, I have long been aware that food is related to both our physical and emotional well-being. And at no time is it truer than at the holidays.

So, in my festive cooking and eating, I try to include as many dishes as possible that not only have highly satisfying flavors and textures, as well as beautiful presentations, but also are good for you. I try to go easy on fried foods, and as much as possible I opt for reduced-fat options of the rich ingredients so many people enjoy this time of year. And, knowing that we always eat with our eyes before we ever put food in our mouths, I always aim to make sure that the foods I serve are a pleasure to look at.

The following recipe for Griddled Potato Pancakes with Smoked Fish is a great example of that approach. It’s inspired by the potato pancakes that are a traditional dish for Hanukkah, which begins its eight-night celebration this year on Sunday evening. You could just as easily serve the pancakes later in the month as a holiday brunch or party buffet item, or even see in the new year by enjoying them with glasses of Champagne or other sparkling wine.

As most people know them, potato pancakes are usually thick discs that have been shallow-fried or deep-fried in oil. But, as you’ll learn from this recipe, you can still get delicious, crispy, much lighter results by cooking thinner versions of the pancakes on a nonstick griddle. I like to top mine with smoked fish and a little seasoned, low-fat sour cream. For even lower-fat results, you can even replace the whole egg with an equivalent amount of nonfat real egg product, found in cartons in the refrigerated case at your supermarket.

So, here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season!

Grilled Potato Pancakes with Smoked Fish

Serves 4

  • 1 pound (500 g) russet baking potatoes
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1 large cage-free egg, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) low-fat sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, plus small sprigs of fresh dill for garnish, optional
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 pound (250 g) smoked salmon, sturgeon, trout or whitefish, any skin or bones removed, flesh separated into large flakes or cut into bite-size pieces

Preheat the oven to its lowest setting. Put a baking dish in the oven.

Line a large bowl with a clean kitchen towel.

Using the fine holes of a box grater/shredder, or a food processor fitted with the grating disc, grate the potatoes. Transfer the grated potato to the prepared bowl. Grate the onion and add it to the bowl.

Twist the towel around the potato-onion mixture and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. (Alternatively, you can pick up the mixture by handfuls and squeeze out the liquid.)

Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl. Add the egg, baking powder, salt and pepper. Stir with a fork until well blended.

Heat a large nonstick griddle or skillet over medium-high heat. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. With a metal tablespoon, carefully place spoonfuls of the potato mixture on the griddle, spacing them about 1 inch apart and pressing down on each pancake to flatten them to a thickness of no more than 1/4 inch (6 mm).

Cook the pancakes until deep golden-brown and crispy, 3 to 5 minutes per side. If you have more potato mixture left to cook, or don’t plan to serve the pancakes right away, transfer the pancakes to a baking dish in the oven to keep warm while you cook the remainder.

In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, chopped dill and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Serve potato pancakes with sour cream mixture and pieces of smoked fish. Garnish with sprigs of fresh dill.