Thursday, December 2, 2010

Latkes ~ A Chanukah Guest Post!

Hey there! Long time no see!

Sorry for the slowness of new posts... it's a busy time of the year... plus I'm kind of a slacker!

Anyway... It's Chanukah and being raised Catholic, I really don't know that much about it. So I googled Chanukah foods and pretty much only came up with latkes, sufganiyot and rugelach.

Now my mom and uncle make kick ass potato pancakes... but unless there's a vat of boiling oil involved, I typically fail miserably at fried potato type foods. You might remember from such posts as Fried Potatoes ~ Why do you mock me?

So I decided to ask Russ. He's one of Jon's friends from way back in his Mother McCree's Garden band days. If you clicked the link... my husband is the one in the dress!! I'm not really sure why he was wearing a dress, but anyway... that's him.

Russ is a talented and creative guy. If you check out, you can see for yourself! He also seems to know his way around the kitchen. So I asked if he'd like to do a Chanukah guest post for me and was VERY excited when he said yes!!

Without further adieu, I give you Russ Schneider!



Chanukah! First the dry stuff: What are us silly Jews celebrating?

From Wikipedia:
"The miracle of Hanukkah is described in the Talmud. The Gemara, in tractate Shabbat 21, focuses on Shabbat candles and moves to Hanukkah candles and says that after the forces of Antiochus IV had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees discovered that almost all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned. They found only a single container that was still sealed by the High Priest, with enough oil to keep the menorah in the Temple lit for a single day. They used this, and miraculously, that oil burned for eight days (the time it took to have new oil pressed and made ready)."

So in addition to lighting a ceremonial menorah to commemorate such "miracles", my Jewish ancestors, in their infinite wisdom (after all, us Jews brought the concept of a day off to the world) somewhere along the way decided that another way to celebrate the holiday was to gorge ourselves on foods cooked in copious amounts of olive oil. That's right! We eat greasy, greasy foods!

Most emblematic of Chanukah foods here in the West is the simple latke (or potato pancake for all you "goys"). Simple enough to make, however you will still find symbols of wretched evil in markets across this country in the forms of pre-packaged boxed mixes or frozen yellow hockey pucks. In yiddish, we say "Feh!"

Here's how simple it is to make the real thing. Don't be tempted by the evil instant crap! Many Bothans (well, Jewish Maccabees) died to bring you this information!


Olive oil

"But wait!", you cry in fear…."you didn't tell us how much of each!" Yeah, you're right. See, exact amounts are USELESS when it comes to latkes. Latkes depend on a delicate balance of moisture in order to properly form the pancake without it being dry or mushy. But don't worry, I'm here for you!

First, peel and grate as many potatoes as you're willing too cook. Don't worry about making too much as you can never have too much! You may use a processor if you like, but if you want to truly understand why your grandmother was such a strong person, use a hand grater. Kind of potato matters not, and you can have fun trying different kinds, like Yukon Gold, or even Purple! I've even made Sweet Potato Latkes and they were AWESOME!

Now here's the MOST IMPORTANT PART! Take the grated potatoes and soak them in a large bowl with cold water. Why? This will help remove the starch and prevent the latkes from being soggy. This is where many a Jewish suburban housewife messes up and earns scorn from her mother-in-law. Soggy latkes make people sad! Chanukah is a happy holiday!

Drain the grated potatoes and squeeze them dry. Pass some paper towels over them to get them as dry as you can. Put them in a big mixing bowl. Now mix with them about a 1/4 cup of grated onion in for every two potatoes you grated. Just for a little flavor. Salt and pepper to taste.

Now comes the part where you need to be as brave as the Maccabees! The flour and egg! This is where your latkes will succeed or fail! Start with enough beaten eggs to coat our potatoes. Then add what you think would be an equal about of flour. Mix. Gently but firmly. The mixture in the end should be not too wet, but not too dry. If it's too wet, add a little more flour. If it's too dry, add a little more egg. You'll know you have it right when you can start making loose balls with it in your hands.

When you think you have it right (and you might not, don't be afraid! if your pancakes start to bust up on the grill, you can adjust…potatoes are cheep!) get a frying pan or griddle ready (I use a non-stick two burner griddle). Get it nice and hot and put in enough oil for what they call "shallow pan frying".

Once hot (you can always test by putting your finger in there, but…) take a table spoon and start spooning potato mixture on to your pan. Use the back of the spoon to make nice little round patties (see photo of me doing it!).


Once you see little golden brown edges of yumminess start to creep up from the bottom, see if you can use a spatula to gently flip the latke over to the other side. Each side should be rather dark brown (NOT BLACK) as you want to make sure the egg in the mixture is cooked all the way through. (stupid salmonella)

Once nice and brown on each side, transfer to your serving platter and bring to the table for all to admire. Bask in the glowing praise! You've earned it!

Now, serving suggestions!

Traditionally it goes that a latke is served with either applesauce or sour cream. From what I can tell this depends on what European country your Jewish ancestors fled from. If they fled from around Germany, serve your latkes with applesauce and a nice lager. If they fled from Russia or thereabouts, serve with sour cream and ice cold vodka.

Should you wish to be non-traditional though, you can always do what I did last year and serve with malt vinegar and a Cranberry Lambic from Sam Adams (see photo - the bowl is filled with Matzo Ball soup, but that's another article). :)


Happy Chanukah!


Russ... thanks so much!!! I learned new things about Chanukah/Hanukkah! Hmmm... why the two different spellings? I found that all over the interwebs too!

Anyway... with your directions, maybe I can master the latke/potato pancake!

And... it looks like Russ might grace us again with his presence with a big bowl of Matzo Ball Soup! Hmmm? Hmmm?? Whadya think?

Thanks again Russ!! You totally ROCK!

Happy Hanukkah!!


tamilyn said...

I have never had Latkes-or any other Jewish food. I really need to meet some so I can try thier cusine. There just aren't any around Podunk MN!

watchmenow said...

Great job, they look delish! I'll add, though, don't overdo the egg or flour. Use only enough to hold things together. We serve them with applesauce. I think that makes us German, uh Romanian, or something.

Patti T. said...

A great a informative post. Thank you Russ. I haven't made these in a long time, I just may have had the inspiration to give it a whirl.

teresa said...

great post! i learned a lot, and they look delicious!

Unknown said...

I just utilized this procedure and served these latkes to my Jewish mother-in-law with excellent results. Russ truly knows what he is talking about on this subject!
Seconding the tip about just using enough egg/flour to make it stick. The potato is the main ingredient.

Spryte said...