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Discerning Diner:
A resolution worth keeping: Eat more latkes
By Elan Head

January 21, 2006

It's a little late, but Happy New Year anyway. Like a lot of people, I indulged to excess over the holidays, and am starting 2006 by swearing off rich food and wine ó well, for a week or two, anyway.

Nevertheless, the holiday binge was worth it. At one point or another, I managed to consume just about every good thing I associate with the holidays: wine, chocolate, rib roast, tamales, posole, cocoa and potato latkes.

Most of those I enjoy on a fairly regular basis year-round. But I was surprised to realize that I hadnít had latkes since last Hanukkah ó surprised, because these classic potato pancakes are cheap, easy and delicious.

So thatís one of my New Yearís resolutions: to eat more latkes.

Generally itís my husband, whoís Jewish, who makes our latkes at home.

Heís not much up on the history of Hanukkah, however, so I turned to Joan Nathanís terrific cookbook, ďThe Jewish Holiday Kitchen,Ē for some background on this holiday and the latkeís place in it.

Hanukkah celebrates the Maccabean victory over Antiochus of Syria in 165 B.C., and in particular the miracle that occurred at the Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem, which the Syrians had seized and dedicated to the worship of Zeus.

When the victorious Maccabees came to the temple to rededicate it to the God of Israel, they found only enough sacred oil to light the ever-burning menorah for a single night.

But the oil miraculously lasted for eight nights, long enough for the Maccabees to procure a new supply. Thus Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days. Latkes, which are fried in oil, are further symbolic of the event.

According to Nathan, potato latkes are Eastern European in origin; Sephardic Jews have a Hanukkah tradition of sweet pancakes made from flour.

Some people make latkes with zucchini or apples. But Iím partial to the potato kind, which are as delicious and addictive as homemade french fries.

Hereís what you do. For four generous servings (which wonít be enough, even for two), wash and peel three large baking potatoes. Grate them coarsely ó a task much aided by the grating attachment on a food processor. Grate half of a large white onion into the mix.

Now take handfuls of the grated potatoes and, with clean hands, squeeze their liquid into a large bowl. Transfer the drained potatoes into another large bowl.

When youíve extracted all the liquid you can, pour this cloudy water down the drain and scrape the starchy sediment at the bottom back into the potatoes.

Mix in two eggs, a half teaspoon of salt and two to three tablespoons of flour, enough to bind the potatoes loosely together.

Now heat three to four tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Some recipes recommend a much larger quantity of oil, but, in the Hanukkah spirit, I maintain that a little oil goes a long way.

When the oil is just shy of smoking, scoop large spoonfuls of the potato batter into the pan and press into flat pancakes. Your latkes can be whopping or dollar-size, but donít make them thicker than a half-inch.

Cook for three to five minutes, or until the undersides of the latkes are crisp and golden brown. Flip and continue cooking until crisp and brown on the other side and well-cooked throughout.

Drain on paper towels and serve hot with sour cream and applesauce. Delicious!

Latkes can be made ahead of time, kept at room temperature for a few hours, then reheated in a 400-degree oven.

If you have leftover batter, press plastic wrap on the surface, refrigerate it and have fresh latkes for breakfast. The top of the batter will turn black, but thatís fine; just stir the batter well before cooking.

And there you have it. The year 2006 is already looking up.







































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