This Hanukkah, mix up your latke recipe
Many of us grew up thinking it was sacrilegious to make our favorite Hanukkah treat with anything but russet potatoes, yellow onions, white eggs, kosher salt, black pepper and matzo meal.
But high-profile chefs and creative home cooks alike have introduced all manner of unlikely items — bananas, sun-dried tomatoes, macadamia nuts, black olives, shitake mushrooms — into the sacred batter. Add to that any root vegetable that’s on sale such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots or turnips, and cruciferous broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.
But alas, try as they might to make their latkes artistically au courant, this is not a dish that is willing to be genetically modified. When it comes to latke making, our grand matriarchs knew best.
Rania Harris of Rania’s Catering and host of “Cooking with Rania” on KDKA tried, for years, to introduce what she thought were enticing additions to the traditional recipe, but her clients would have none of it.
“During the Jewish holidays, people are particular and only want they had as children,” she says.
Of course, who among us doesn’t love the crispy potato pancakes brought over from the old country by our great grandmothers?
They produced perfectly grated potato shreds on their sturdy box graters, threw them into ice water with a little aspirin to retain the color, squeezed them within an inch of their life to get out the liquid, added other ingredients, one by one, using their hands to moosh everything together, and then to form uneven little patties which would be fried in hot oil. When they were the perfect shade of brown, would be carefully lifted out — creamy on the inside, wispy and crispy on the outside.
Still puzzled by the question, how far afield from Grandma’s latkes are folks willing to go, we drilled the experts:
Was it inscribed in an ancient tablet in Jerusalem that latkes will be flat, dry and tasteless if they’re made with anything other than the sturdy, starchy russets?
“It’s all about the science,” says Jeffrey Nathan, longtime host of PBS’ “New Jewish Cuisine.” “Russets and Yukon Golds have the same high-starch content, so you need less flour to bind the latke together. The less flour, the richer the potato flavor and that’s what we want.”
If you want to introduce another variety, Nathan, favors the Yukon for its earthy flavor and creamy texture, as well as the iconoclastic purple potato with its deep, rich taste. Both add beautiful color, but because they are pricier, he recommends mixing them with the Russets or saving them for intimate get-togethers.
To add different vegetables — such as zucchini, cauliflower, carrots, yams or parsnips — adjust the starch accordingly. The proud winner of a latke cook-off at the James Beard House in Manhattan, Nathan recommends using 3/4 potatoes as a base and 1/4 of the other vegetables. When adding yams or parsnips, use no more than 50 percent, as these root vegetables have almost no starch content and the latkes won’t get crispy.
Latke wisdom, beginning with our great grandmothers and carrying over until today, is creamy and crispy. Some say it’s all in the eggs.
Laura Frankel, executive chef at the Spertus Institute for Jewish studies in Chicago uses only stiffly beaten egg whites, insisting it makes the latkes lighter.
Although she likes her latkes traditional, lately Frankel has been setting up a Latke Bar of toppings such as Apple Chutney, Smoked Salmon dip with Caviar, Kalamata Tapenade, and Roasted Pepper sauce along with the expected, but still loved, apple sauce and sour cream. She prefers making appetizer size latkes, about 1 1/2-inch rounds, so that a guest can taste a different flavor with each bite.
If you want to experiment, try serving a replacement for the applesauce in the jar and throw some comforting favorites into the mix. Bill Wedner, co-owner of Smallman Street Deli makes sure his applesauce is homemade with plenty of cinnamon and serves it with his special latkes, and corn beef brisket with apricot glaze and matzo ball soup.
Rania Harris slices Granny Smith apples into rings and sautes them with rosemary and garlic. For a real change of pace she offers potato pancakes the way they were made in Germany — mashed. Her other latke idea is sensational. She adds sauteed onions to the latke batter.
Maybe that’s the real joy of the Festival of the Lights. Because we have those eight leisurely nights where we are forced to eat foods fried in oil (Poor us!) we can go traditional and experimental.
Fried Doughnuts (Sufganiyot)
These deep-fried Israeli delicacies are the most popular Hanukkah dessert. They melt in your mouth and are filled with plum, prune, poppy seed or raspberry jam and then sprinkled with sugar. This recipe is from Laura Frankel, executive chef at Spertus Institute in Chicago.
- 1 tablespoon dry yeast
- 1/3 cup sugar, divided
- 3/4 cup room-temperature dark beer such as Guinness or Aventinus
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons butter or canola oil
- Favorite preserves, as needed
Mix together the yeast, 2 tablespoons of sugar and the beer. Let sit until the yeast is foamy, for about 10 minutes. Sift the flour and mix it with the remaining sugar, salt, spices, egg yolks and the yeast mixture. Add the butter or oil. Knead the dough until it is smooth and forms a ball. Form into 2-inch balls. Place on a cookie sheet and let rise until they have doubled in size, for about 30 minutes.
In a medium-size saucepan, heat the oil to 350 degrees. Use a thermometer to make sure it stays at this temperature. If oil begins to smoke, it is too hot. Empty the oil and start over. Drop the doughnuts into the oil about 5 at a time. Using chop sticks or tongs, turn the to brown evenly. When dark golden brown, remove them to a plate lined with paper towels and drain any excess oil.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a small tip with the jam. Pipe the jam into the doughnuts and then roll the doughnuts in granulated or powdered sugar to coat.
Makes about 2 dozen doughnuts.
This recipe is from Tribune Media.
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups cake flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Dash of pepper
- Splash of paprika
- 1 onion, peeled
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 5 medium-size potatoes
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Applesauce, preferably homemade, for serving
- Sour cream, for serving
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.
Grate the onion on a box grater into a bowl. Set aside.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Lightly beat egg yolks.
As quickly as you can, peel the potatoes and grate them on the shredding side of the box grater into the bowl with the onion.
Picking up handfuls, squeeze out all the liquid from the potato mixture. Return to the bowl. Mix in the egg yolks. Stir in the dry ingredients. Fold in the egg whites.
In a skillet, heat the oil till very hot. Drop the batter by spoonfuls into hot oil. Fry on each side till golden brown and cooked through.
Drain on brown-paper bags.
Serve with bowls of homemade applesauce and sour cream.
Corned Beef Brisket with Apricot Glaze
This recipe is from Bill Wedner, co-owner of Smallman Street Deli, Strip District and Squirrel Hill.
- 3 to 4 pounds corned-beef brisket, sliced thick
- 1 cup Heinz ketchup
- 1 cup yellow mustard
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup apricot preserves
Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the sliced corned-beef brisket in a roasting pan. In a small saucepan combine the ketchup, mustard, sugar and preserves. Bring to boil; lower the heat and simmer for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool. Pour the glaze over the meat and heat on the oven for 30 minutes until the glaze has caramelized.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Purple Potato Latkes with Apple Cider Drizzle
This recipe is from Jeff Nathan, cookbook author and chef-owner of Abigael’s on Broadway in New York.
If you can’t find purple potatoes, substitute Yukon Golds.
- 1 1/4 pounds purple potatoes, quartered
- 1 1/4 pounds Russet potatoes, quartered
- 1 medium Spanish onion, halved
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 2 tablespoons potato starch
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons matzo meal
- 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh garlic, pressed
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- 1 tablespoon pure olive oil
- Canola oil for frying
- Apple Cider Drizzle ( see recipe )
Using a box grater or food processor on the smaller holes, alternately shred the potatoes and onion into a large bowl. Using your hands, squeeze out as much moisture as you can. In a medium bowl beat the eggs. Add potato starch, matzo meal, hot sauce, cilantro, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir mixture into the potatoes.
In a large cast-iron skillet heat the oil. Using a quarter-cup measure, carefully drop the latke batter into the hot oil. With the back of a tablespoon or a potato masher, pat down the batter to make large, thin latkes. Do not crowd the pan. Fry on both sides until golden.
Remove from the pan and drain the latkes on a paper towel-lined baking sheet.
Makes about a dozen latkes.
Apple Cider Drizzle
- 1 cup apple cider
- 1 teaspoons dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon honey
In a small saucepan over low heat, pour in the apple cider. When warm, combine with the sugar and honey. Raise the heat to medium-low and cook until the mixture is reduced by half. Remove the pan from the heat; let the cider mixture cool. To serve, pour into a small pitcher; drizzle over the latkes.
Makes 1/2 cup.
Chunky Cherry Applesauce
This recipe is from “Jewish Holiday Cooking” by Jayne Cohen (Wiley, $32.50).
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 2 Gala apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 1/4 cup apple juice
- 2 to 3 tablespoons sour cherry preserves
In a large heavy saucepan. bring the apples and juice to a boil. Cover; reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender, for 15 to 20 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, stir in the cherry preserves. Remove from the heat. If desired, mash the applesauce with a fork to make a chunky puree. If desired, add more preserves. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 2 cups.