Converge, collide … and add something fried!

This week America will be celebrating Thanksgiving, a remembrance of gratitude for the land, the labor and the relationships that sustain us.

2013 marks the first time since1899,  that the Jewish winter celebration of Hannukah coincides with the American Thanksgiving.  Unlike our civic solar-based calenda, the Jewish calendar is roughly based on the 29.5 days it takes the moon to circle the earth, making for a drifting holiday.  Rather than embarrass myself by trying to explain how this is calculated, suffice it to say that the dates of the Jewish holidays including Hannukah and Passover, change every year. Known around the internet as Thanksgivvukah, or my favorite Hannugiving, Jewish Americans are creating new menu ideas such roasting a men-urkeys and baking dreidle pies along with the dressing and cranberry sauce.

However when it comes to Hannukah, the most important recipe is for Potato Latkes.  And – it just so happens that all the ingredients you will need (except the eggs!)  are in season right now.

A few tips before we begin:

  • You can probably use most any kind of potato but russets are the most common recommendation.  Probably the biggest debate about potatoes in my kitchen and every on-line latke chat lines is the importance of draining some of the water out of the potatoes before frying.  Potatoes are about 75% water, and as you know, adding water to hot oil is a bad idea. In the case of latkes, the dryer your batter, the crispier your latkes.  And really, golden brown and crispy is the whole point of a latke.
  • About the addition of root vegetable other than potatoes and onion.  If you have conservative eaters at your table, just don’t tell them until after they’ve had seconds.
  • Can I make them ahead and …. freeze, reheat, microwave, etc.? No.  Don’t bother.  Like I said above, crispy is what it’s about, and in my humble opinion, a re-heated latke is just not worth the time or the calories. If you want to serve latkes to more than 4-6 people, let your guests know that the latkes will be rolling off the griddle a few at a time and that they should go ahead and nash on all of the other things. This is not a good recipe for a large traditional let’s all sit down and eat together at the same time.
  • The final piece of advice is to go ahead and use oil.  Hanukah commemorates the miracle of light.  After the Jews won their temple back from the Macabeean occupying army, they had only a small amount of oil to use for their lamp … and miraculously the oil lasted for 8 days, the time it took for someone to ride off to the market and get back with a new supply of oil.  It’s all about the oil … and if you skimp on it, or try to do a low-fat latke by baking it in the oven, well .. you might as well just mash them.  Get the oil just to the smoking point and go for it. Fry hot, flip once and get the finished latkes onto an absorbent paper towel ASAP.
  • If all this sounds too complicated for Thanksgiving Day … consider saving the latkes for Friday after your shopping is done.  Hannukah lasts for 8 days, from 11/27-12/5 this year, and in my house Thanksgiving goes until the leftovers are finished.  Turkey soup with latkes and leftover cranberry sauce for a small family meal sounds like a miracle menu reminding us to celebrate the convergence of American diversity and the abundance of the harvest.
  • And one more thing .. come December when you are looking for the blue sprinkles to make those dreidel cookies for the inclusive holiday plate … you can skip it for once and go all out for the red Santas and the green Christmas trees!

Potato Latkes

6 large potatoes (may substitute 1 potato for an equal amount of parsnip, carrot or rutabaga)

1 medium onion

3 eggs

½ cup matzo meal (may substitute flour or finely mashed cracker crumbs if needed.)

salt and pepper to taste

oil for frying

Grate potatoes, onions and other root vegetables if desired.  Place grated vegetables in a colander and allow to drain. After10 minutes squeeze out the excess liquid and place in a large mixing bowl. Add matzoh meal, eggs and seasonings.

Heat just enough oil to coat the bottom of a non-stick skillet. Form individual 2-3 inch pancakes with hands. Fry several at a time over moderately high heat until golden brown and crisp. Drain briefly on paper towels and keep warm until ready to serve.  Traditionally Hannukah latkes are served with applesauce and sour cream. But in our house some like ketchup and others prefer sauerkraut.