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Chanukah is Grate

December 2, 2010

Happy Chanukah.  Mrs. Fussy is surprised I don’t spell it Hanukkah.  I mean officially since Hebrew and English have different characters, you can anglicize it however you like.   But dammit, the word starts off with the mellifluous back-of-the-throat “ch” sound that some people find difficult to pronounce.

Today is actually the first day of the holiday, even though last night was the first night.  That’s how we do it.  So officially this post isn’t late.  It’s exactly right on time.

Last year I wrote about why this is my favorite holiday.  The short answer is that it’s a celebration of fried foods.  The most traditional of these, potato latkes, did not really get the attention they deserved.  Honestly, it wouldn’t feel like Chanukah without them.  And I was recently reminded by my mother of a easy and delicious shortcut to make them on a weeknight with little fuss.

So today, I’m going to share it.

Most of my life, I never really had to worry about making latkes.  And that is thanks to two very special people in my life:  My mom and ADS.

Although the two of them didn’t quite see eye-to-eye on latke recipes.

As far as I was concerned, my mother’s recipe was unimpeachable.  But ADS always gently bristles when he’s reminded of the presence of a small quantity of baking powder.  He says that it causes the latkes to rise, or something like that.

His family recipe doesn’t call for it.  And much to his credit, his recipe doesn’t use a blender, either.

If you didn’t stop reading at the end of the last sentence, please allow me a moment to explain.  Not all blender latkes are created equal.  Most are simply gummy and flat, more like fried mashed potatoes.  But if you master a couple of simple techniques, they don’t have to be.

Here’s what I do.

I cube up some russet potatoes, skin and all, into a rough centimeter dice.
Using my blender’s markings, I measure three cups.
Then I dump out 2 ½ of those cups to reserve for later (no need to dirty a cup).
I cube up ½ of a small onion and throw that in the blender.
Then I add 2 large eggs, 2T all-purpose flour, 1t kosher salt and ¼t baking powder.
I hit the grate button and watch everything turn into a lumpy paste.

Here’s the critical part.  I stop the blender and put in all the remaining potatoes. Then with one finger on the off button and one finger on the grind button, I run the blender just until all of the big chunks pass through the blades.  Once it gets moving, it’s faster than you think.  Now you’ve got something that looks a lot like oatmeal.

What these latkes are lacking are the tendrils that come from grating potatoes by hand.  But those lacy edges can still be achieved when you put your batter in the frying pan.  A gentle ¼-cup pour will result in an oddly round and symmetrical latke. But if you take that same measure and shake it with a bit more force into the pan, the batter will scatter, and the result is a more rustic edge.

Just be careful, because that oil is hot and it can scar you for life.  At least that’s what my mom told me.

I made these last night after a lengthy latke cooking hiatus which might have lasted over ten years.  It was super easy.  And now the house smells like Chanukah.  I just hope by tomorrow it goes back to smelling like our house.

Maybe I’ll get some frozen latkes this week and just cook them in the oven to help me go through my stash of applesauce and rBGH-free* sour cream. Fried foods are delicious, but I think I’ll continue to enjoy them at restaurants.

And now I can move on to the other foods of the holiday.

* By law producers must note: the FDA has stated that there is no significant difference between milk from rBST-treated and untreated cows.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Jean Patiky permalink
    December 2, 2010 11:08 am

    Sounds delicious…we had Chanukah…but no latkes yet…wish we lived around the corner. No matter how many latkes you make…they all disappear.

    You can make them ahead and freeze them one layer and pop them in the oven frozen on a cookie sheet and heat them on a high heat..350- 400 for a short time, if you are having a large crowd or a latke party.

  2. Don permalink
    December 2, 2010 11:27 am

    you can anglicize it however you like

    That’s a pretty hutzpadik statement.

    Some might say “transliterate” or “romanize,” but the meaning is the same. My point, however, is that there are actually rules, so that when you look at the English version, you can tell what the Hebrew was. Moreover, if you consult with the right people, you’d find there’s a difference between the pronunciation of ח and כ . [Hope the Hebrew, which shows on my screen, is picked up by your blogofeature].

    Let me take this opportunity to recommend that a chili pepper be added to the oil. חג שמח

    • December 2, 2010 12:47 pm

      Don’t you mean chutzpadik? ;^) Speaking of chutzpah, did you happen to catch my summary of the holiday last year? I embedded a link to it today, and am saddened that more people haven’t clicked on it. But I’d love to have a rabbinical ruling on some of my assertions.

      • Don permalink
        December 3, 2010 12:01 pm

        Hutzpah with an H, because, like Hanukkah, the Hebrew begins with the letter het ח. You might be interested to know that the only biblical uses of the verbal stem are in the Book of Daniel. I suppose the Yiddishists would prefer a throat clearing “kh—-”

        As to fried foods on Hanukkah: There are those who say the custom is not based on the Talmudic fairy tale of the little-jar-of-oil-that-lasted-for-8-days, but rather derived from the tale from the Apocrypha, in the Book of Judith (12:10-13:8). Jewish woman feeds salty cheese to invading general; he gets very thirsty, drinks too much, and while passed out drunk, is decapitated by her. Originally, therefore, Hanukkah pancakes were fried cheese.

  3. December 2, 2010 11:55 am

    Two words: sweet potatoes.

    If my act is together this weekend, I’ll bring some to B&B.

  4. Kerosena permalink
    December 2, 2010 1:18 pm

    Blender, huh? Never heard of using one of those for latkes. But I’ve never grated by hand, either. I’ve always used the grater attachment on a food processor.

    I have about 20 years of experience in latke-making. I’ll be making them for the cafe on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and for the family gathering on Saturday evening. I figure the house will start to smell normal again in April.

  5. Ellen Whitby permalink
    December 3, 2010 12:08 pm

    Though I am not a rabbi and have never playod one on TV, here are my rabbinical thoughts for you.

    1. You can use the H or the CH to begin your guttural words and though Don is correct (that there is a difference in the pronunciation of ח and כ in Hebrew), there are different “official” guidelines for transliterating those letters. Some use “Ch” for one of those letters and “H” with a dash (-) over it for the other); some use “H” without the -; some are based solely on phonetics (and don’t distinguish between the two letters). The real solution: use Hebrew characters instead of transliterating.

    2. In last year’s post, you say you can eat “…French fries, chicken wings, fish fry, onion rings, fried chicken, deep fried turkey, corn dogs, fried cheese, sesame balls, falafel, fried okra, Bon Chon Chicken, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.” to celebrate. My suggestion: don’t eat them all at once. Some of them you may eat with apple sauce only and not with sour cream. Especially if the kashrut police are watching.

    3. Your house will smell for a long time but it’s interesting to note that the smell of fried donuts does not cancel out the smell of fried latkes.

    Happy חנוכה. And שבת שלום.

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