Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Time for Latkes


Chanukah began last Sunday night. Were your frying pans, potatoes, and oil at the ready?

Like most Jewish kids of Eastern European, or Ashkenazic, descent, I grew up eating potato latkes, or pancakes, every Chanukah. My extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins would gather on the first night of the holiday at one of our homes and the air would soon be heavy with the aroma of potatoes cooking in oil. Because it was technically a full meal, someone would make brisket or roast chicken. Someone else would make vegetables and salad. But the centerpiece of the meal, the only dish that counted that evening, was the latkes—crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. And we’d take sides over what accompanied them. Those who were on the savory side ate them with salt and sour cream. The rest would go for sugar and/or applesauce.

Latkes may be iconic Ashkenazic Chanukah food now, but they’re actually relatively new in Jewish history. The Maccabees—the priestly family who led the successful rebellion against the Syrians back in 168 B.C.E. which the holiday celebrates—never would have had latkes since they would never have seen a potato. It was only at the end of the 18th century that German Jews began making potato pancakes, but not for Chanukah. And these potato pancakes weren’t just from grated spuds, as we’ve come to assume are traditional, but also mashed, according to Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.

But potatoes became a staple of Eastern European Jewish food and eventually the potato latke, made from hand-grated russet potatoes, became associated with Chanukah in Eastern Europe and then the U.S. by the mid-19th century, as  immigrants arrived here.

Given how relatively recently the potato latke became part of Jewish history, why not riff on tradition and create other forms of pancakes from different root vegetables to celebrate the festival of lights? After all, the main point of the holiday is celebrating the miracle of the single jar of oil that burned for eight days.

Baby Turnip Latkes frying
No matter what root vegetable you use, here are some tips for getting them as crispy as possible:
  • Be sure to squeeze all the liquid out of the grated vegetables. Cheesecloth is good for this.
  • You don't have to deep fry the latkes. Just use enough oil to cook them.
  • Make sure that the oil has a high smoke point, like canola or avocado oil. 
  • Fry them in cast iron skillets to get them really crispy. 
  • And, if you’re entertaining the crowd, make them ahead of time and freeze them. Then reheat them in the oven. Making latkes is a hot and messy affair. It’s fun, but it may not be what you want to do when company is there.
Evie's Latkes
Adapted from Molly Goldberg
Makes 20 pancakes
(printable recipe)

Ingredients
Five russet potatoes
One onion, grated
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons matzoh meals
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 slices eggbread, softened and squeezed of water (Nana)
Vegetable or peanut oil (or shortening)
Salt and pepper

Directions
1. Put grated potato and onion in strainer over a large bowl. Knead it to get moisture out, the let sit in bowl to draw out potato starch. Dump water but keep starch at bottom of bowl. 
2. Put potatoes/onion in tea towel and wring to get out moisture. 
3. Add to bowl with other ingredients, Mix well, including starch.
4. Fry in cast iron pans. Drain on paper towels and keep warm on cookie sheets in 200º oven.


Carrot Turnip Latkes
From Caron Golden 
Makes about two dozen, three-inch pancakes
(printable recipe)

Here’s a colorful variation from the traditional potato latkes I grew up with. In winter, you can make these pancakes with any root vegetable. Try sweet potatoes, parsnips, or beets, separately or in combination. For a more traditional latke, use an onion instead of the green onions and leave out the garlic and herbs. My grandmother used to add two slices of eggbread, crusts removed, softened with water and then squeezed of the moisture. My mom still makes traditional latkes this way.

Ingredients
½ pound of carrots, trimmed and peeled
½ pound of turnips, trimmed and peeled (look for sweeter baby turnips if available)
6 large green onions, trimmed
3 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons matzoh meal or flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons fresh, chopped herbs (parsley, oregano, thyme, etc.)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable or peanut oil or duck fat

Directions
1. Grate the turnips and carrots coarsely, using the large holes of a box grater or food processor grater. Place in large bowl.
2. Chop the green onions coarsely and add to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Add the garlic and pulse until the onions and garlic are minced. 
3. Put all the vegetables in a large bowl and add the matzoh meal, baking powder, herbs, garlic, salt, and pepper. Stir it all together to fully mix the ingredients.
4. Add the eggs and mix well. The batter should be moist but not runny.
5. Heat 1/4-inch of oil or duck fat in a hot pan. Place a tiny bit of the batter in the pan. If it begins to sizzle, the fat is hot enough for the batter. Use a large spoon and drop the batter into the pan, then flatten into a pancake. Don't crowd the pancakes by putting too many in at one time. Cook for several minutes on each side until the pancakes are golden brown. Put the pancakes on a plate with paper towels placed on top to drain the fat. You can also heat your oven to 200 degrees, place the pancakes on a baking sheet, and keep them warm until you serve them. 
6. Serve (with applesauce, sour cream, or creme fraiche). 

Curried Sweet Potato Latkes
From the New York Times via David Wasserman/Joes on the Nose
Yield- 16, 3-inch pancakes
Ingredients
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
2 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup milk approximately
Peanut oil for frying

Directions
1.Grate the sweet potatoes coarsely. In a separate bowl mix together the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, cayenne pepper, curry powder, cumin, salt and pepper.
2. Add the eggs and just enough milk to the dry ingredients to make a stiff batter. Add the potatoes and mix.  The batter should be moist but not runny. If too stiff, add more milk.
3.  Heat 1/4 inch of peanut oil in a sauté pan until it is barely smoking. Drop in the batter by tablespoons and flatten. Cook several minutes on each side until golden. Drain, serve.




Print Page
--> -->