Thursday, December 14, 2006

Chanukah or Hanukkah Part 2 -- Come Fry the Latkes

If Hanukkah has a smell it must be of latkes frying in more oil than most of us use for the rest of the year combined. My range has a commercial fan venting hood, but even so I smell like oil after frying up just a (relatively) small batch. (No one seems to really make just a few latkes.)

If my ancestors decided to choose foods cooked in oil as symbolic of Hanukkah, my foremothers found a winner in the potato pancake or latke (which is Yiddish for the delicacy). As much as I and many others enjoy them, though, they tend to be a seasonal treat due to their fat, carb and calorie content. Since we eat them so rarely, I have no desire to try those avant-garde recipes for sweet potato or zucchini or sunchoke or even low-fat cabbage latkes that pop up in food sections and magazines this time of year. The original is as good as it gets here at Blog Appetit and we like it that way.

My latkes are just a bit of the heretic. My family likes the taste and texture of the potato peel, so my spuds are unpeeled. I alternate shredding onion and potatoes in batches in the food processor to help prevent the shredded potatoes from browning. (Although the darkened raw potatoes seem to make little difference in the final taste and appearance.) I prefer matzo cake meal to bind my batter. The latkes are fried in plenty of oil until the lacy edges are crisp and brown. And I follow my mother-in-law's advice and always drain the freshly fried pancakes on brown paper bags instead of on the more usual paper towels.

The result? Crisp, delicious latkes and only a little bit of heartburn.


For those of you without a latke recipe to call your own, here is mine, an adaptation of one that appeared in The Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene.

2 1/2 pounds of baking potatoes,
1 large or 2 small onions,
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper, or more to taste
About 1/4 cup matzoh cake meal (or 2 to 3 tbsp flour)
Vegetable oil

Peel the potatoes if you prefer. Shred or grate the potatoes with the onions. Larger shreds produce lacier latkes with rougher edges. Fine shreds or grated potatoes produce more "pancake"-like latkes. Squeeze out excess moisture from the mixture. Mix in eggs, seasoning and matzoh meal or flour. Let sit for five minutes so mixture can absorb the meal or flour. Add more if it still seems wet.

In a very large skillet (the heavier the better) over medium-high heat, heat oil that is about 1/4-inch deep until it is very hot. (I drop a bit of batter in to see if it sizzles with bubbles all around.) Spoon latke mix into the oil or press the batter into a large serving spoon and then carefully slide it off the spoon into the hot oil. Do not over crowd the pancakes in the pan. Fry them until browned on both sides and crisp on the edges. Drain on brown paper bags. Repeat until all latkes are fried.

This recipe makes about 30 3-inch potato pancakes.

Serving suggestions: Latkes go great with homemade applesauce and pot roast or roast chicken. Or serve them by themselves with the applesauce and sour cream.

(More about The Jewish Holiday Cookbook here. Part 1 of the Chronicles of Chanukah explaining some of the holiday's history can be found here.)

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