Here at Not Dabbling in Normal we love to celebrate diversity. After all, we’d all be normal if we weren’t different. So today we have a guest post from a friend that celebrates the holidays differently than those of us here at NDIN. Oh, did I mention she brings a recipe? Probably one of the most celebrated Hanukkah recipes ever? Please welcome Stephanie from The Winding Stitch (and then go make some delicious latkes!!)!
We didn’t do much, Jewish observance-wise, when I was growing up, but we always had latkes for Hanukkah. In the Jewish belief system, Passover is the most important holiday, but Hanukkah has a story even a Jewish Atheist like my father can get behind: you don’t let a bunch of Syrian-Greek invaders push you around, and tell you what you can and can’t do. Also, he likes latkes better than matzah and macaroons.
In our younger years, my sister and I would take turns grating the potatoes by hand, spelling each other when our arms got tired. Grating the onion was always my father’s job, however: he is the only person I know who can grate onions without his eyes tearing up. Once we left home, my father had to grate the potatoes too. “I told your father, you want latkes, you grate the potatoes,” my mother told me during one of our weekly phone conversations.
And grate them he does. One year, when my parents were over my place for Hanukkah, he saw me pulling out the food processor and exclaimed, “ Your grandmother never used a food processor.”
“Believe me,” I told him, “if she knew from food processors, she would have used one.”
He shook his head. “It won’t be the same.”
“So,” my mother called from the living room, “you want latkes, you grate the potatoes.”
(By the way, you can get the same texture with a food processor, or least get close enough for my liking: do the Joan Nathan thing and use the shredder disk and then pulse them with the blade.)
He now fries the latkes too, because my mother finally tired of him standing over her, making sure they would be crisp on the outside and moist (not gummy) on the inside. Texture is key with latkes.
Some years ago, my mother gave me her battered copy of Jennie Grossinger’s The Art of Jewish Cooking. There’s a crease in the spine that corresponds to the page with the recipe for potato latkes. I have a typed and laminated copy of the recipe that I use now, to spare the book. This is our family’s latke: light, crispy, not too eggy, not too dry. As my Grandma Friedman liked to say, enjoy, enjoy!
(from Jennie Grossinger, The Art of Jewish Cooking, 1958)
- 2 eggs
- 3 cups grated, drained potatoes
- 4 Tbs grated onion
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 Tbs cracker or matzoh meal
- 1/2 cup oil
- Beat the eggs and add the potatoes, onion, salt, pepper, and matzoh meal.
- Heat half the oil in a frying pan and drop the potato mixture into it by the tablespoon. Fry until browned on both sides.
- Keep pancakes hot until all are fried, adding more oil as required. Serves eight.
Friedman Family Annotations
- Serve with sour cream, applesauce, and, if you want to be really Old Country, jam.
- This recipe serves eight only if you’ve got lots of other food people are eating. In my family, it serves four. I always double it (or more) for our annual Hanukkah party.
- Four or five good-sized potatoes will usually give you three cups grated, but check. One small onion will usually give you four tablespoons grated.
- Remember, that’s grated, not shredded. You are making latkes, not hash browns.
- Drain the potatoes over a bowl, then pour away the liquid. Scrape the potato starch out of the bottom of the bowl and add it back into the potatoes.
- The grated potatoes will turn slightly rust-colored as they oxidize. Don’t worry, they’ll turn white again when they cook. Just don’t let them sit so long that they start to blacken; then you’ll have grayish latkes.
- The oil needs to be very hot, so use an oil that has a high smoking point.
- Use two pans if you can; you’ll get done faster. Yes, you’ll use more oil, but you’ll also get to eat them with everybody else, rather than having to sneak one or two while you slave over a hot stove.
- Flip the latkes once the edges are browned and the middle looks mostly cooked (you’ll see the potatoes whiten, even if they haven’t oxidized much). If you flip them too early, the centers will be gummy. If you flip them too late, the edges might burn or get too crusty. Don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of it eventually.
- Latkes are best right out of the pan, but you can keep them hot in a 200-250 degree oven before serving, if you can keep people from coming into the kitchen and taking them. Don’t let them sit too long, though, or they will lose their delectable crispiness.
- Yes, your entire apartment or house will smell like cooking oil, even the next day. This is not a bad thing. It’s festive, okay?
Stephanie Friedman is program director of the Writer’s Studio program at the University of Chicago Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MA in English from the University of Chicago. She blogs at windingstitch.blogspot.com.