I remember last Channuka well. My friend Sharon Kitchens asked me to submit a few paragraphs about the holiday for her blog, based out of Maine, to give readers a feel for the winter season here in Israel. Mustering all the positive feelings I could regarding the cold and rain that had recently befallen us, I wrote what I hoped was a cozy little piece , that more or less summed up the ambiance ’round the festival of lights in my neck of the woods.
When I was growing up we weren’t big latke-makers in our family. My childhood memories of potato pancake-eating are blurry — a soggy, cold latke on a plastic plate after my school’s Hannuka concert, a mini-latke here or there at a synagogue event. To be honest, I did not begin making my own latkes until 5 or 6 years ago and quickly discovered that there were actually many more options than the usual potato-onion-and-salt- meet-hot-oil, varitety. After several years I felt confident that I had made up for my lack of latke-practice in my youth and was confidently and cluelessly serving up mediocre latkes to family and friends, without much thought. Until now.
This Hannuka, working at the cafe, I’ve gotten the chance to participate in a great deal more latke-making than in all my past years combined and have seen what goes into getting a consistent product that our customers are pretty crazy about. I’m not saying that makes me an expert, but I have learned some useful tips that I thought I’d share:
1. You will never manage to squeeze all the moisture out of your potatoes, so just do the best you can and move on. In past years, I’ve squeezed, wrung, and used a half roll of paper towels trying to dry my grated potatoes — and the darn latkes still didn’t always stick together in the end. Give your grated potatoes a squeeze before you add them to mixing bowl, and then again, right before they go into the frying pan. If you follow the rest of these rules, that oughta do it.
2. Ignore the no-flour rule. Some of my go-to cookbooks are just dead wrong when they say that adding flour to your latkes will make them dense or heavy. A little flour (half a cup per 6 or so potatoes) adds body and helps soak up some of that excess moisture. Obviously you can make latkes without flour as well, but it certainly won’t harm them, and may make it a little easier to get a uniform product.
3. Salt is not optional. Potatoes are bland. Try biting into one and you’ll see. Latkes in their original form have just three or four ingredients. Without salt, you’ve got yourself an oily, golden paperweight.
4. FINELY grate your potatoes, onions and whatever other vegetables you put into your latkes. The large holes on your grater are going to give you pieces of potato that are too big to distribute evenly throughout the latke mixture. Using a food processor or the small holes of a box grater will give you the size you need.
5. If you are not using eggs, use another binding agent. Cornstarch works great.
6. OIL, oil, oil, oil. The foods we eat on Hannuka are fried because we are celebrating the oil in the temple burning for 8 days and nights. Latkes will not fry up properly in a pan coated with pan-spray or a shallow layer of canola. You need inches of oil here and it needs to be hot. Latkes should take a couple of minutes to become golden brown, on each side. Test one to see if your oil is the right temp, and don’t forget to squeeze ’em right before sliding them into the pan.
7. Drain on paper bags. As with all fried foods, you will maintain the latkes’ crispiness if you let paper bags, as opposed to paper towels, soak up the oil after frying.
Happy Hannuka and happy frying!
I found these unusual sweet potato latkes at the food52 blog. Food52 is a collaboration that includes Amanda Hesser, the woman responsible for compiling and editing over 1000 recipes from the past 150 years of New York Times’ food journalism, and recently creating the much talked about, Essential New York Times Cookbook. Since these latkes are from the site’s blog — which includes readers’ recipes — I doubt they are featured in the cookbook. They are a home cook’s attempt to replicate the famous latkes from Orna and Ella’s Bistro in Tel Aviv, and involve a different method (and very different result) than traditional latkes. Don’t wait until next Hannuka to try these savory winter treats, they are delicious!
Orna and Ella’s Sweet Potato Pancakes, contributed by Jonaz to Food52.com
2.75 pounds Sweet Potatoes
2 tablespoons Soy Sauce
3/4 cups Flour (I used 1/4 cup all purpose and 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry)
1 teaspoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Fresh ground black pepper
butter (I used margarine– and pan spray would work as well)
Peel sweet potatoes and cut into large pieces. Remove any dark spots.
Cook the sweet potatoes in boiling water until soft.
Leave in a strainer or colander for at least 1 hour to drain completely of water (I left mine in a colander, in the fridge overnight)
Place the sweet potatoes in a large bowl and mix with soy sauce, using your hands** (do not overmix, or the mixture will get too sticky to work with).
Add flour, sugar, salt and pepper and mix with hands. Remove any hard or black parts.
Keep mixing with hands (I started mixing with my hands then switched to a rubber spatula) until you get the right consistency. The batter should be soft, even and a bit sticky. If it is watery add some flour. DON’T OVERMIX!
Put the batter into a sandwich bag or other plastic bag, tie off the end and puncture on one end to make an icing bag.
Warm up a non-stick pan and add butter/margarine/pan spray
Make two-inch pancakes on the frying pan. Fry on both sides on medium heat.
Jonaz suggests using an herbed sour cream as accompaniment- which I am sure would be delicious. I made my favorite tahini sauce, which is just a couple tablespoons of pure tahini paste, a little tamari or soy sauce, some rice vinegar and water to thin- you can also add a little sugar or brown rice syrup.
I don’t believe that there is one perfect latke recipe, although I am sure that, like chocolate cake, chicken soup, apple pie and pesto, many will claim that their recipe (or their mother’s or grandmother’s) for potato latkes is the best one there is. Perhaps one day I will settle on a favorite, but for now I am still enjoying exploring the many variations of these simple potatoey pleasures. Be prepared for your kitchen, hallway, [maybe] bedrooms, and certainly you hair, to smell like frying potatoes for the duration of Hannuka.
Potato and Celery Root Latkes, from Gourmet Today, edited by Ruth Reichl, 2009
Tonight is the fourth night of Hannuka, and since it’s the weekend I am just getting into my holiday-cooking mode over here. I happen to love Hannuka and would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit happy about this being the last time (for a long while) that we will have to celebrate this awesome little festival of lights in the shadow of the commercial HOLIDAY SEASON clusterf*&% that is December in the United States. (What a racket….)
I wish everyone wonderful holidays, whatever you celebrate, may they be mall-free (unless that’s your thing) and filled with people and foods you love.
Sufganiot- Hannuka Doughnuts adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2010
As far as I know, the reason we make sufganiot on Hannuka is because during this holiday we fry foods in oil to commemorate the oil that kept the menorah burning in the temple for all 8 days. For some reason, sufganiot are traditionally filled with jam, but I do not think there is any connection between the jam and the Jews, other than our love of sweets. These little treats have no jam, instead they have a lot of fresh grated nutmeg, which is a completely different experience than the pre-ground stuff. Do not skimp here, the fresh nutmeg is what this recipe is all about.
3 1/2 cups flour
1 2/3 cups sugar, divided
3 tbsp. freshly grated nutmeg, divided
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 egg white
1 cup buttermilk (I used 1 cup soymilk, plus 1 tsp apple cider vinegar, and let it curdle for 10 minutes)
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted (I used Vegan Buttery Sticks – margarine)
Canola oil, for frying
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, 2/3 cup sugar, 1 tbsp. nutmeg, baking powder, salt, and baking soda; set aside. In a bowl, whisk together egg and egg white until frothy. Whisk in buttermilk and butter. Stir buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients to form a dough. Transfer dough to a floured surface; gently roll to 1/2″ thickness. Using a floured 3 1/4″ round cookie cutter, cut out rounds of dough and transfer to parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Gather dough scraps, knead briefly to form a ball; flatten and cut out more rounds. Repeat until all dough is used. Using a 1 3/8″ round cookie cutter, cut out center of each round. Chill doughnuts and holes for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine remaining sugar and nutmeg in a large paper bag; set aside.
2. Pour oil into a 6-qt. Dutch oven to a depth of 2″; heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 325°. Working in small batches, fry doughnuts and holes, turning, until golden brown, 2–3 minutes for doughnuts and 1–2 minutes for holes. Using tongs, transfer doughnuts to a wire rack to drain. Shake doughnuts and holes in the paper bag to coat in the nutmeg-sugar.
MAKES ABOUT 2 DOZEN
Last winter was just horrid. Bleak, depressing and it seemed to go on and on. Most days I was stuck inside for hours with my darling, teething toddler and when we did venture outside we had to pick our way around icy mountains of old snow and through biting wind only to have an excuse to leave the house. Also, I can see now that I was definitely still in the postpartum doldrums and the biggest indicator (believe it or not) was my musical taste during those frigid months. Some people eat ice cream or watch the soaps when they are sad, I listen to ultra-cheesy pop music. I don’t know if it’s because it cheers me up, or matches my mood but whatever it is, if you catch me with kiss 108 on the radio, something is not right. Auralee and I must’ve listened to Leona Lewis’s Bleeding Love a thousand times from December to March and now that we are entering that season once again, I want to just take a moment to say how appreciative I am to have survived last year, how glad I am to be in the here and now, and that you know…it’s really quite a catchy tune. Happy Hunukkah.
Isa Chandra’s Autumn Latkes from Veganomicon
2 cups peeled, shredded beets (2 average-size)
1 cup peeled shredded carrot (1-2 medium)
1 cup peeled shredded sweet potato (about 1 medium)
1 shallot, chopped finely
1/4 cup corn starch
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
several dashes of freshly ground pepper
1 tsp fennel seeds, chopped
1/4 cup water (I did not find this necessary, the veggies had enough moisture)
Olive oil for pan frying
Have ready layers of paper towels or large paper grocery bags to absorb the oil after frying. You can also preheat the oven to 250 F so you can keep the fried, drained latkes warm while the others cook.
Combine the shredded veggies (I used to food processor to grate everything, takes no time al all) in a large mixing bowl. Add the shallot, cornstarch, flour, salt, pepper, and fennel seeds. Use a wooden spoon to mix everything well; the flour should coat everything. Add the water, if using and stir until all the flour is dissolved.
Preheat a heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Pour 1/4 inch of oil into the pan. Let oil heat for about 2 minutes.
Form the beet mixture into balls the diameter of a quarter and then flatten into 1 1/2 inch medallions (you can make then a little bigger if you want to). Fry the medallions in batches for 5 minutes; turn over and flatten them a bit with a spatula. Fry for another 3-4 minutes (you can adjust the heat if they are burning). Transfer to bags or towels to drain. Serve ASAP with your choice of toppings: apple sauce, sour cream etc.
Oh dear. Seventeen years of trying to forget about my jewish day school experiences and I find myself baking jelly “donut” cupcakes while humming ‘Don’t Let the Light Go Out’ the week before Hanukkah begins. What can you do? These memories of dressing up in blue and white and singing songs about the Maccabi children while wedged between a nose picker and the boy-you’d-like-to-hold-hands-with-but-has-no-idea-you’re-alive (and has since become a handsome gay filmmaker in L.A.), creep into our present and make it impossible to fry a latke in peace. So here we are, the week before Hanukkah and I am trying hard to claw my way through the bottomless pit of ashkenazi (eastern european) holiday recipes in search of something a little closer to my heart.
Here’s a start:
Vegan Jelly Donut Cupcakes! Hurray!
For those of you unfamiliar with the story of Hanukkah, I’m hardly the person to explain what happened. But I do know this: there were some candles in oil and they burned for eight whole days without anyone having to do anything. So that’s kind of a miracle I guess, and that’s why on this holiday we fry things in oil. Two very popular fried Hanukkah treats are latkes (also known as levivot, in the mother land, and potato pancakes here in the United States) and jelly donuts or sufganiot.
Now I don’t know about you, but I like to make life easier for myself (and also save frying for things I really care about, like falafel…mmmm…) which often means preparing food ahead of time. Fried donuts are not nearly as good the next day or the day after, but these brilliant little cupcakes are actually better when eaten a day or so after they are made.
Enjoy and stay tuned for Potato Pancakes!
Jelly Donut Cupcakes from Veganomicon
1 cup soy or rice milk (you can also use regular milk if you like)
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs corn starch
1 1/2 cups flour (I used 1/2 cup all purpose and 1 cup whole what pastry- or, here in Israel a blend of all purpose and 70% whole wheat)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 plus 2 Tbs granulated sugar (I used a heaping 1/2 cup and they were plenty sweet)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
About 1/3 cup raspberry jam preserves (or any flavor you like)
confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Pour the soy milk, vinegar and cornstarch into a measuring cup, stir and set aside to curdle and thicken.
Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt, baking powder, baking soda and nutmeg. Create a well in the center to pour your wet ingredients into.
Stir the soy milk mixture to dissolve starch then pour it into the dries along with the oil, sugar and vanilla. Stir until well combined.
Fill the cupcake liners about 3/4 full with the batter. Place a heaping teaspoon of jam on the center of each cupcake. You don’t need to press down, it will sink during baking.
Bake for about 22 minutes until tops are golden and look firm. Remove from the oven and cool completely on wire racks. Once cooled, set them someplace cool and dry overnight (uncovered if you can). Before serving, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar using a sifter or sieve.