Yes, indeed, it's Chanukah, or Hanukkah, or Chanukkah, or Chanuka, depending how you Romanize the Hebrew. Last night was the second of eight, and my partner and I declared the evening Latkes for Dinner night.
Latkes are potato pancakes, and a traditional food for
celebrants of Chanukah. While variants abound, the basic ingredients
are, well, basic: grated potatoes, eggs, flour, and grated onion. Salt
and pepper, natch. Fry 'em up in a fry pan with not too much oil but not
too little. Serve them with apple sauce, or sour cream, or both. Bacon?
Ahhhhh .... probably not.
A colleague came by my desk earlier
this month and asked me how I make latkes. His daughter (ten years old,
or thereabouts) is an enthusiastic cook and a vegetarian, and she wanted
to give latkes a whirl. 'Tis the season, and all that. My colleague,
R--, can't summon up latkes from his own cultural background, so he
asked my advice.
Sitting at my desk, thinking technology
thoughts, I wasn't expecting the question. I reeled off what I
remembered off the top of a head that was immersed in wikis and code
repositories and enterprise service busses. When I went home, I looked
up a recipe for latkes from a book my grandma once gave me and realized
I'd forgotten a few key elements (like the grated onion -- oy!), so I
brought the book in the next day and photocopied the recipe for R--.
But I never actually use the recipe.
residual tendency to use recipes for savory dishes was knocked out of
me by a stint as a cook some twenty years ago, the one I mentioned last
week in Changing careers. We didn't serve latkes per se at Oliveto,
a restaurant here in the East Bay that focused then and still on
northern Italian cuisine. We did occasionally serve potato pancake
variants, perhaps serving them with smoked salmon and creme fraiche and
chives. Mmmmmmmmmm... But I was saying: cooking with your senses --
touch, smell, taste, vision -- it's a principle, a habit, an abiding
joy, actually. It sticks with you.
(For the record, I do tend to
closely follow recipes for pastry, bread, cakes, and so forth. Baking is
fussier than cooking savory dishes, I prefer to hedge my bets.)
when I came home yesterday evening and started to prepare latkes I made
them the way my grandma used to describe most anything she taught me to
cook: a few of these, some of those, a smidgen of the other, season,
pan fry, serve. However. I did pay attention to what I was cooking by
instinct ... expressly so that I could share with you, my faithful
readers, Steve's Own Latke Recipe.
3 russet potatoes, medium size
1/2 of a red onion, medium size
3 eggs, large
4 heaping tablespoons flour
salt & pepper to taste
cooking oil, for frying
and grate the potatoes and the half-onion into a large steel bowl. The
grated root vegetables will be pretty wet, so you want to squeeze out
the water, then spread them on a towel (I use a clean dishtowel) and
roll it up tight, pressing and squeezing to force the water out of the
vegetables and into the towel. Then return the potatoes and onion to the
(You're going to need to wash that towel now, by the way. You've already added the starch.)
crack the eggs and mix them in with a spoon. Sprinkle the flour over
the mixture, one spoonful at a time, mixing in-between. Add salt and
pepper to taste. I'm pretty generous with both. No, I'm sorry, I can't
really be more precise than that.
Cooking 'em up
a pan. I use a non-stick, 12" frying pan. Once the pan is hot, add oil.
I use canola oil; olive oil tastes nice, yes, but its smoking point is
pretty low so it's not a great choice for frying, not even in a pan. How
much oil should you use? Enough to get the whole surface of the cooking
pan slick -- more than a film, less than a pool. When you put the
latkes in the pan, you want them to kind of slide around easily, to
skate on the oil slick as it were, but not to be sunk in a pool of
cooking oil, not even a shallow one. Or maybe you're looking for
something more like deep-fried? Look, it's cooking, there's room for
Let the oil get hot, but don't let it smoke.
pancakes with your hands. Yes, it's messy. Get into it! Six big latkes
or perhaps eight or ten smaller ones can be had from the ingredient
quantities listed above (check out the photo). I cooked up two batches
of three latkes each, and put the first ones on a paper-towel lined
pizza pan in the oven to stay warm while I cooked the second batch. You
want to let the latkes get nice and crispy on one side, then turn them
over. You'll see the grated potato turning decidedly brown as the time
to turn them approaches. It's okay to peek to check for doneness. After
flipping the latkes the 2nd side will cook faster than the first.
I'm not big on sour cream, but don't let that stop you. Apple sauce is the perfect accompaniment to latkes in my book.
Enjoy! Even if you don't celebrate Chanukah, or have a preferred spelling of the word.