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Latkes for the Second Half of Hanukkah

By mid-way through Hanukkah, I’ve had my fill of oil-soaked, floppy, even rubbery latkes that seem to grace — a generous word — the plates of many Hanukkah parties. They’re a far cry from a food that is meant to celebrate the miracle of oil, a cook’s gold. A latke should be crisp and golden on the outside, tender on the inside; it should go well with condiments, but not require them.

The Forward went in search of some untraditional latkes and some cooking advice — and our experts served up some delicious suggestions:

Ruth Reichl
Editor-in-chief of the now-shuttered Gourmet, former New York Times and Los Angeles Times food critic and the author of several best selling books including Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise (Penguin Press, 2005).

“There’s a truly great recipe for Celery Root and Potato Latkes in ‘Gourmet Today,’ our new cookbook. I like the bit of sweetness that the celery root adds — and they’re very crisp.”

Celery Root and Potato Latkes
From “Gourmet Today,” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009)

Celery root adds a touch of sweetness to classic latkes. Crisp and flavorful, these are equally good as a first course served with applesauce or sour cream and as a side for roast fowl or fish.

1 large (1½-pound) celery root (celeriac), peeled with a knife
1½ pounds russet (baking) potatoes (about 3 large)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 pound onions, quartered
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1¼ teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground celery seed
About 1½ cups vegetable oil

Put racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 250°F.

Set a wire rack on each of two baking sheets.

Using the wide holes of a box grater, coarsely grate celery root into a bowl (see Cook’s Note).

Peel potatoes and coarsely grate into a large bowl. Add lemon juice and toss. Coarsely grate onions into same bowl. Transfer to a kitchen towel (not terry cloth), gather up corners to form a sack, and twist tightly to wring out as much liquid as possible. Return potatoes and onions to cleaned bowl and stir in celery root, flour, eggs, salt, pepper and celery seed until well combined.

Heat 1⁄3-inch oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Fill a 1⁄4-cup measure with latke mixture (not tightly packed), carefully spoon it into skillet, and flatten to 3 inches in diameter with a slotted spatula. Form 3 more latkes and fry until undersides are deep golden, 1½ to 3 minutes. Turn over using two spatulas and fry until deep golden on second side, 1½ to 3 minutes more. (If latkes brown too quickly, lower heat to moderate.) Transfer to paper towels to drain briefly, then arrange (in one layer) on rack on one baking sheet and keep warm in oven. Make more latkes in same manner, using second baking sheet for last batches.

Cook’s notes: The celery root, potatoes, and onions can be shredded in a food processor with the shredding disk. In that case, use 5 eggs instead of 4, because the machine will grate them more coarsely and the mixture will require more binding.

The latkes can be fried up to 1 hour ahead.

Serves 8 (makes about 32 latkes)
Active time: 1¼ hours Start to finish: 1¼ hours

Joan Nathan offered up a similar recipe, with a sweet twist:

Joan Nathan
Author of numerous cookbooks, including “Jewish Cooking in America” (Knopf, 1994), “Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook” (Schocken, 2004) and a forthcoming book on French-Jewish cuisine.

“My favorite is celery root, apple, potato and onion. I created the recipe for Bon Appetit several years ago. It has strong flavors with a certain sweetness from the apple. You have to have an apple with a lot of flavor.”

Potato Pancakes with Celery Root and Apple
From Bon Appetit magazine

1 pound baking or Yukon Gold potatoes
1 medium onion
1/2 celery root, peeled (about 3 ounces)
1 Granny Smith apple, unpeeled
1 teaspoon potato starch
1/4 cup chopped scallions, including green part
1 large egg
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon winter marjoram, diced
1 tablespoon diced chives (optional)
Vegetable oil for frying

Peel the potatoes and place in a bowl with cold water. Peel and quarter the onion and the celery root. Using a grater or food processor equipped with the grating blade, coarsely grate the potatoes, onion, celery root and apple.

Place the grated foods together in a fine-mesh strainer or tea towel and squeeze out all the liquid over a bowl. The potato starch will settle to the bottom of the bowl. Carefully pour off the liquid, reserving the potato starch.

Combine the grated mixture with the potato starch. Add the scallions, egg, salt and pepper to taste, the winter marjoram and chives. Add more potato starch if needed to make the mixture hold together.

Heat a griddle or non-stick pan and coat with 1/8th inch of oil. Take about 3 tablespoons of the potato mixture in the palm of your hand and flatten as best you can to a circle 3 inches in diameter. Carefully slide the pancake into the oil, flatten with a large spatula and fry for about 5 minutes or until golden. Flip the pancake over and brown the other side. Remove to paper towels to drain. Serve immediately with smoked salmon and creme fraiche or a horseradish sour cream.

Note: You can freeze the cooked pancakes and crisp them up in a 350-degree oven before serving.

Yield: About 8 pancakes.

Nach Waxman
Founder and owner of Kitchen Arts and Letters in New York, among the world’s largest food-centric bookstores.

“When our daughter, who is deeply involved in the Mexican community, came home from Chicago we made her Jayne Cohen’s sweet potato latkes with lime cream sauce – ooooh, they were they terrific.”

New Mexican Sweet Potato Latkes With Lime-Sour Cream Sauce
From “Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lovers Treasury of Classics and Improvisations” (Wiley, 2008)

For the Lime Sour Cream Sauce:
1 cup sour cream
1⁄3 cup snipped fresh chives
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons grated lime zest

For the Latkes:
2 pounds sweet potatoes (choose a flavorful variety such as Jewel or Garnet, if available)
Kosher salt
1 cup finely chopped onion blend
1⁄3 cup flour
2 teaspoons ground ancho chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin, preferably freshly toasted and ground
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Canola or sunflower oil, for frying
Optional garnish: chopped fresh cilantro

Prepare the lime–sour cream sauce: stir together the sour cream, chives, and lime juice and zest in a small bowl. Let the flavors develop while you make the latkes.

Make the latkes: shred the sweet potatoes using the medium/fine shredding disk of a food processor. (While many recipes call for coarse grating, I find that sweet potatoes won’t release as much moisture when grated that thickly and so don’t bind as well with the other ingredients.) Transfer the shredded potatoes to a colander, sprinkle with about 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, and use your hands to squeeze out as much moisture as possible.

Put the sweet potatoes in a large bowl, and add the onion, eggs, flour, salt to taste (figure 1 to 1½ teaspoons), chili powder, cumin, baking powder, and cinnamon. Mix until thoroughly combined.

In a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet (cast-iron is ideal), heat about 1⁄4 inch of oil over high heat until it is hot, but not smoking. Fill a 1⁄4-cup measure with latke batter, drop the batter into your hand so that you can squeeze out the excess liquid, then slip it into the hot oil. Flatten the latke with a spatula. Continue making latkes in the same way, but cook no more than 4 or 5 at a time.

Regulate the heat carefully as the latkes fry until golden and crisp on the bottom, about 4 minutes. To prevent oil from splattering, use two spatulas (or a spatula and a large spoon) to turn the latkes carefully. Fry until crisp and golden on the other side.

Avoid turning the latkes more than once or they will absorb too much oil. Before turning, lift the latkes slightly with the spatula to make sure the underside is crisp and brown.

Transfer the cooked latkes to paper towels or untreated brown paper bags to drain. Continue frying latkes until all the batter is used. If necessary, add more oil to the pan, but always allow the oil to get hot before frying a new batch.

Serve the latkes right away with the lime–sour cream sauce, garnished, if you’d like, with cilantro. They are at their best eaten as soon as possible, but, if necessary, you can keep them warm, arranged in a single layer on a rack set on a baking sheet in a slow oven (200°F) until they are all ready to be brought to the table

Mimi Sheraton
Former New York Times food critic, Tablet magazine contributor and author of “Eating My Words: An Appetite for Life” (Harper Perennial, 2000), among other books.

“I’m appalled if I get served a non-traditional latke recipe. I like the traditional ones, I don’t get them often enough, so I like the traditional one: potato, onion, lots of salt and pepper and the starch put back in the mix to thicken it. I think the only exception is my son made my recipe and put finely minced jalapeños in it once and I liked that.”

Potato Pancakes
“From My Mother’s Kitchen” (HarperCollins, 1991)

These should be prepared and fried as close to serving time as possible.

7 or 8 medium old potatoes (about 2 ½ pounds)
1 large onion, peeled
2 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons potato flour or matzoh meal
1 scant tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
Corn oil, for frying
Applesauce, as accompaniment

Peel the potatoes and cover with cold water until you are ready to make the pancakes. Grate the potatoes and onion into a strainer that is suspended over a bowl to catch the juices. If this is hard for you to manage, grate the potatoes into a bowl, then turn into a strainer suspended over another bowl. Grate the potatoes and onion alternately, as the onion juice will help prevent the potatoes from darkening. Using a wooden spoon, or picking up handfuls of the grated potato mixture, squeeze or press out as much liquid as possible. Reserve all liquid and let it settle in the bowl for 2 or 3 minutes.

Put the pressed potato and onion mixture in a clean bowl. Carefully pour off the watery part of the reserved liquid but do not discard the thick, starchy paste at the bottom of the bowl. Scrape that into the potato mixture. Add the egg yolks, potato flour or matzoh meal, salt, and pepper and mix thoroughly. Beat the egg whites to stiff and shiny peaks and fold them into the potato mixture.

Heat a ½-inch-depth of oil in a heavy skillet, preferably of black cast iron. Drop the potato mixture into the hot oil, about 2 tablespoons per pancake, and fry, turning once so the pancakes are a deep golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Total frying time for each batch of pancakes should be about 10 minutes. Keep fried pancakes warm while the rest are being fried. To do that, put the fried, drained pancakes on a rack in an open baking pan and place in a low oven (about 250 degrees). Do not hold for more than 15 minutes before serving or they will become soggy. Serve with applesauce.

Yield: 6 servings

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