Hanukkah

sunchokelatkeEating potato pancakes carry many childhood memories for me, especially of summers spent with my paternal grandparents in the countryside of Hungary. I can almost clearly remember myself in the garden right outside the kitchen door, eating them as my mother brought them out, one by one, slathered with jelly or applesauce.

Popular throughout Eastern Europe, potato pancakes are also known as latkes in Yiddish, and are traditionally eaten during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. They can be enjoyed as a sweet treat or a savory appetizer when served with sour cream. The purists like them plain, but I can eat them every which way. The key with these pancakes is to eat them as soon as they are fried because they are only as good as they are hot and fresh.

In this recipe I use a combination of shredded root vegetables, such as sunchokes from the Union Square Greenmarket, potatoes, and carrots. All provide a variety of flavor and texture. Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes—though they're neither native to Jerusalem nor related to artichokes, are knobby ginger-like tubers with a slightly sweet and nutty flavor.

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herod lamp"Latkes are a kind of oil, into which small quantities of shredded potato have been infused." -- Jonathan Safran Foer


Latkes, also known as potato pancakes, are a traditional treat to eat at least once during the eight days of Hanukkah. The reason you eat latkes for Hanukkah is because they are fried in oil. Why oil? Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the second temple after a battle and along with the victory came the miracle in which mere drops of oil in an oil lamp lasted eight days. The "miracle" is much like a story about a fat man coming down a chimney with presents...

A real miracle would be to have perfectly crispy and not-so-greasy latkes. For years there has been a debate in my family. My mom and I spoke up in defense of shredding potatoes for latkes, and my papa insisted that grating lead to much crispier ones. It's all in the technique, as most recipes call for the same ingredients--eggs, flour or matzah meal, onions and potatoes. Last year I had some of the crispiest latkes ever and guess what? Papa was right. Grating does make them crispier. That and frying them in the just right amount of oil at just the right temperature of course.

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hanukkahstamp.jpgTruthfully, Hanukkah makes me anxious. It’s one of those performance things. Not about making crispy incredible latkes or the homemade applesauce or the chorus of songs after the blessings. No, it’s the presents. Giving exactly the right gift meant you know exactly what the kid needs. A mom’s job, right? Um... Know who they are and you know what they want? Right? Um... Could we call it generalized mother present anxiety syndrome? Hanukah really ups the ante on the whole thing. I mean, Christmas, ok, one day. If you blow it – well, sayonara until next year, baby. But, Hanukah! Eight days! Every night! Really? I mean, who thought of that? Not the Maccabees when they decided they’d had enough of the Greeks.

I raise my hand in admission of guilt. You see, my husband and I disagreed over giving gifts. Him against me. How can you not give gifts to little kids? All those latke and Hanukah gelt (Hanukah chocolate coins) turned up at the lights, wishing for a little present just like the Playstation (I’m dated, I know) his friend, Avi, got last year. I won the argument. Over gifts. Kind of like winning a ticket to do all the dishes all the time.

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applefritters.jpgHomemade, doughnuts and fritters are the absolute best. They far surpass any "donut" shop doughnuts. When I'm in the mood for doughnuts but don't have the patience to wait for dough to rise, I like to make fritters. They fulfill my craving as fast as I can fry them. Their crispy fried exterior and fluffy interior are what make them a favorite sweet treat for many people. A batch of fritters is very easy to put together and they are great for any occasion. But they make a special treat for Hanukkah, which is celebrated with fried foods like latkes and fritters.

The interesting thing about fritters is that you can find versions of them in many cultures throughout Europe, Asia, and South America. Greeks have Loukoumades, which are balls of fried dough doused in honey syrup. The French have beignets. Italians have zeppole. In Spain and Latin America there are buñuelos. In India there are gulab jamun, balls soaked in spiced sugar syrup. In the United States you can find apple fritter rings, which look just like doughnuts. I'd like to think it possible that the original recipe for fritters made its way through all the different cultures, who then adapted it to their liking.

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My recipe is the one my mother and now I have been making for years. I mean years and years. It came from one of my mom’s best friends Roz Katz. Mom and Roz met as co-op nursery school mothers. The Katzs still grate the potatoes by hand using the old fashioned grater that is like a grid. I’m in a hurry so I use a food processor.
– Evan Kleiman

latkeplate.jpg Evan Kleiman's Latkes

Traditional Potato Latkes

Zabar's Latkes

Latkes with Pomegranate Syrup

Melanie Chartoff’s Mother’s Mother’s Latkes

Almost Traditional Potato Pancakes

Amazing Potato Latkes

Amy’s Potato Pancakes

Grandma Sarah’s Latkes

Thin and Crisp Potato Pancakes

Bill's Latkes
 

Chunky Homemade Applesauce

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