Reconsidering a Hanukkah Classic
Shared by Kelly Ohnona
Recipe Roots: New York City
In Kelly Ohnona’s Paris home growing up, latkes weren’t reserved for Hanukkah. “My mom used to make latkes every Sunday,” Kelly recalls. They were served twice during brunch, first with smoked salmon and sour cream for the savory part of the meal, and then with sour cream and sugar for dessert. Her mother Elizabeth Cohen, who emigrated from Poland to Sweden as a teenager and then immigrated to France kept the recipe traditional, using white potatoes and frying her latkes. While Kelly remembers the decadent brunches fondly, these aren’t precisely the latkes she makes today.
Instead, she’s swapped the classic potatoes, for sweet potatoes and frying, for time in the oven for a healthier alternative. But, she’s kept other elements of mother’s tradition, like serving them with smoked salmon and sour cream.
“Right now, I can’t really handle fried food,” she explains. When Kelly moved to the U.S. five years ago, her health struggled. To help heal herself, she started to shift her eating towards a plant-based diet, which she defines as “80 percent plants and 20 percent whatever we want.” Hoping to share her experience, in 2015, she launched My Organic Diary, a blog where she shares her recipes for dishes like tahini squash crumble and overnight oats with homemade Nutella.
Cooking like this required rethinking her pantry and approach. She first learned to cook from her mother who owned a restaurant and sophisticated French catering company with her father (Kelly’s mom actually met her husband Claude working in his restaurant). “My father really doesn’t know how to boil an egg,” she jokes. Her mother was a quick learner though, adopting the dishes of her father’s Tunisian roots like cooked salads made with eggplant and peppers. “I really grew up surrounded by food,” she says.
But much of the food in their home was, like the latkes, rich. Cooking more healthfully, “is very simple. Cooking with veggies is so much more interesting in terms of colors and flavors.” Still, she adds, “I didn’t change everything overnight. It’s still evolving.”
It also took some tweaking of recipes she loves. With the sweet potato latkes, “The first few times they were mushy or not cooked enough,” she says, but she was able to rectify that. One thing she couldn’t fix, though, was the fact that her husband simply doesn’t like sweet potatoes. So, she makes them for friends and her in-laws, and adds: “sometimes I just make them for myself.”