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Archive | December 10th, 2009

Hanukkah, Festival of Lights, Brings Latkes

Hanukkah, Festival of Lights, Brings Latkes

Latkes2Friday night at sundown marks the beginning of the festive Jewish holiday, Hanukkah. Its presence over an eight-day period, this year through Dec. 19, is celebrated joyfully, though somewhat more quietly than Christmas.

“After all, how can a menorah compete with Christmas trees or fat red-suited men driving reindeer? And, when is the last time you heard any Hanukkah songs amid the endless Christmas music blared over shopping mall loudspeakers,” asks Steven Raichlen, writing in “The Hadassah Jewish Holiday Cookbook,” edited by Joan Schwartz Michel (Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, Inc., $29.95).

Hanukkah is celebrated to mark the long-ago victory of a small band of Jewish patriots over a Syrian army two centuries before the common era. The Syrians occupied the Holy Land and outlawed the practice of Judaism. The “crowning insult,” he writes, was when the leader, Antiochus IV, converted the great Temple of Jerusalem to the pagan gods of the Greeks.

Angered by the persecution, a Hebrew priest and his five sons took the name Maccabee, meaning “hammer”, and defeated Antiochus.

“Then, the miracle of Hanukkah took place. The small supply of oil (meant to burn only one night) burned for eight straight days,” writes Raichlen.

Hence, as Jews celebrate this miracle, they light candles on a menorah each night of Hanukkah and eat foods cooked in oil. The foods around the world differ. Some make fritters or doughnuts, but in America the treat is potato pancakes served with applesauce and sour cream.

Jews and non-Jews alike look forward to eating latkes this time of year. The recipe for Crispy Traditional Potato Pancakes is pretty straightforward. But, says author Joan Nathan, in “Jewish Cooking in America,” look for lots of “designer” touches to latkes these days — latkes “laced with scallions, zucchini, carrots and apples, and sometimes topped with goat cheese …”

However you want to enjoy them, remember that the oil is of the most symbolic importance.

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Crispy Traditional Potato Pancakes for Hanukkah

Crispy Traditional Potato Pancakes for Hanukkah

Latkes1Joan Nathan, in “Jewish Cooking in America,” says she finds hand-grated potatoes make better-tasting potato latkes, or pancakes. But, she adds, the difference is “marginal.” So, you have permission from this expert in Jewish cuisine to use your food processor to grate the potatoes.

Crispy Traditional Potato Pancakes

2 pounds  Yukon Gold potatoes
1 medium onion
1/2 cup chopped scallions, including some of the green parts
1 large egg, beaten
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil for frying

Peel potatoes and put in cold water. Using a grater or a food processor, coarsely grate the potatoes and onions. Place together in a fine-mesh strainer or tea towel and squeeze out all the water over a bowl. The potato starch will settle to the bottom. Reserve that after you have carefully poured off the water.

[amazon-product]0375402764[/amazon-product]Mix the potatoes and onions with the potato starch. Add the scallions, egg, salt and pepper.  Heat a griddle or non-stick pan and coat with a thin film of oil. Take about 2 tablespoons of the potato mixture in the palm of your hand and flatten it as best you can. Place the potato mixture on the griddle, flatten with a large spatula and fry for a few minutes until golden. Flip the pancake over and brown the other side. Remove to paper towels to drain. Serve immediately. You can also freeze the potato pancakes and crisp them in a 350-degree oven at a later time.

Note: If you want a more traditional and thicker pancake, add an extra egg plus 1/3 cup matzo meal to the batter. Add a little more oil to the pan, if needed, and don’t flatten the pancakes as much.

Makes about 2 dozen pancakes.

From “Jewish Cooking in America” by Joan Nathan

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