Do you know why we celebrate the eight-day Jewish festival of Chanukah (Dec. 8 to 16 this year) by eating potato latkes? For Jewish villagers living in Russia or Poland, pickings were slim in winter, so they turned to potatoes stored in the root cellar. Millions of Jewish mothers fed their hungry children with just a few potatoes and very little fuel. The small potato patty fried in oil (latke) symbolizes a long-ago victory when Jerusalem was liberated and warriors, called Maccabees, set a golden menorah alight with olive oil. There was only enough oil to last one day; but miraculously, it burned for eight days.
Over the centuries, those who wanted to observe the tradition developed recipes using ingredients available in the countries in which they lived. Because there weren’t any olives to press in Eastern Europe (or the east coast of North America, for that matter), cooks used schmaltz—fat rendered from a chicken, duck or goose. I still remember going to my grandmother’s apartment in Brooklyn, New York and seeing that coffee tin filled with schmaltz!
There is no right way to make a latke. Some like their latkes made with coarsely grated potatoes; others with finely grated ones, or even puréed. For binding, some prefer flour and others, Matzo Meal. Purists like their latkes to be all potatoes, often with a pinch of onion, while the more daring might add grated carrots or other vegetables, such as Jerusalem artichokes.
My grandmother shared this recipe with me. These simple, delicious latkes are not loaded with potato starch, flour, baking powder or other non-essential ingredients.
• 4 medium Idaho potatoes
• 6 TB canola oil, olive oil or schmaltz
• 3 eggs, beaten
• 2 TB Matzoh Meal
• 2 tsp kosher salt
• 1/2 tsp coarse black pepper
• Applesauce or sour cream to garnish (optional)
1. Fill a large bowl with cold water.
2. Peel potatoes, and as you finish each, place in the cold water to prevent browning.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
4. Using a box grater, carefully grate the potatoes using the large- or small-holed grater (whatever you prefer). Or, cut the potatoes lengthwise into halves or quarters so they fit into food processor feed tube. Process the potatoes using the blade that creates thin, shoestring-like strips and then transfer to a large bowl.
5. Squeeze the potatoes with a paper towel or clean dishtowel to remove any excess water.
6. Add the eggs, Matzo Meal, salt and pepper, and mix well.
7. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Drop six to eight spoonfuls of mixture into the hot oil. Using the back of a spoon, pat down each latke to flatten it. Put as many as you can in the skillet without crowding. (Putting them too close together will make them soggy.)
8. Fry three to four minutes on each side, until golden and crisp around the edges; repeat the procedure until finished with all the batter.
9. Blot any excess oil with paper towels.
10. Serve the latkes warm, topped with applesauce or sour cream, if desired.
Read more about the American Southwest’s Santa Fe, New Mexico in Four Seasons Magazine.
As executive chef at New Mexico’s Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe, Andrew Cooper is passionate about bringing the kitchen to the dining room so guests can experience the beauty of fresh, seasonal ingredients. A graduate of the esteemed Culinary Institute of America, Chef Andrew has also worked at Four Seasons properties in Hawaii, Los Angeles’ Westlake Village, California and New York. His pastimes include bike riding, visiting galleries and museums, and spending time with his wife Ruby and two young sons.
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