Getting your Chanukah act together
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Getting your Chanukah act together

Lots of latkes: Variations on a theme


Jayne Cohen, in “Jewish Holiday Cooking” (Wiley, $32.50), provides these tips for making potato latkes:

(1) Latke batter should be room temperature; cold batter will lower the oil temperature, causing the latkes to absorb too much oil. (Exceptions: cheese latkes, which may fall apart if not very cold.)

(2) The batter should not be too wet. A very wet batter will produce steam. The result? Soggy, greasy latkes. If the batter has thrown off a lot of liquid, drop a measureful of batter into your hand, so you can gently squeeze out the excess moisture before slipping it into the hot oil.

(3) Use a high-smoke-point oil. Try canola or peanut oil for your latkes; olive oil has a lower smoke point than canola, and thus it requires greater vigilance in regulating the heat.

(4) Make sure the oil is hot enough. To test the oil temperature, stand an untreated wooden chopstick in the oil. If little bubbles form around it, the oil is ready. Or flick a pinch of flour into the oil; if it sizzles, start frying.

(5) Keep it clean. Between batches, scoop out any burned fragments from the pan. Every two batches or so, it may be necessary to wipe out the pan to remove burnt oil or bits and add fresh oil.

(6) Preparing ahead. You can keep latkes for a few hours at room temperature, in a single layer on a rack, loosely covered with a kitchen towel. Refrigerating leaves latkes sodden and lifeless. But you can freeze them for longer storage. Arrange drained, cooled latkes on a cookie sheet and slide into the freezer until solidly frozen. Store in a strong, resealable plastic bag or airtight container. To serve, reheat the latkes on a rack set on a baking sheet in a preheated 400-degree oven until hot and crisp.

(7) Two-thirds of the potatoes should be coarsely shredded, to make a crispy crust, and the rest grated rather fine, to ensure a little creamy layer within. All coarse would mean all crunch without an intense potato taste, while completely fine makes latkes with too much mush beneath their thin crisp coat, causing them to absorb huge amounts of oil.

(8) It’s best to flip the latkes only once, so that they don’t absorb too much oil. So, before turning, lift the latkes slightly with the spatula to make sure the underside is crisp and brown.

The following recipes are from Cohen’s book:

Classic Potato Latkes

1 1/2 lb. russet (baking) or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled

1/2 lb. onions, peeled

1 large egg, beaten

1 tbsp. matzoh meal or unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. baking powder

Canola oil, for frying

1. Coarsely shred the potatoes and the onions, using the shredding disk in a food processor. Transfer the mixture to a colander or strainer and use your hands or a wooden spoon to press out as much moisture as possible.

2. Remove the shredding disk from the processor and replace with the steel blade. Return about one-third of the shredded potatoes and onions to the work bowl, and process, using the pulse motion, until roughly pureed. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the remaining potatoes and onions from the colander, and the egg, matzoh meal, salt, pepper, and baking powder. Mix until thoroughly combined.

3. In a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet, heat about 1/4 inch of oil over high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Drop 1/4 cup of the batter into the pan, and flatten with a spatula. Repeat with more batter, cooking no more than 4 or 5 latkes at a time; crowding the pan will give you soggy latkes.

4. Regulate the heat carefully, reducing it to medium 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.

5. As the latkes are done, transfer them to paper towels or untreated brown paper bags to drain.

6. Continue making latkes in the same manner 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.

Scallion Latkes with Asian Dipping Sauce

For the Dipping Sauce

2 tbsp. soy sauce

2 tbsp. orange juice

1 tbsp. rice vinegar

2 tsp. Asian toasted sesame oil

1 tsp. peeled and grated fresh ginger

Chili oil (optional)

For the Latkes

2 bunches of scallions, white and light green parts, trimmed and thinly sliced

2 tbsp. canola oil, plus additional for frying

1 tsp. peeled and minced fresh ginger

1 1/2 tsp.s minced fresh garlic

1 1/2 tsp. soy sauce

1 1/2 lb. russet (baking) or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 large egg

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tbsp. matzoh meal or unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Prepare the dipping sauce: Stir together all the ingredients and let the flavors mingle for at least 30 minutes.

2. Start the latkes: In a large skillet, sauté the scallions over moderately high heat in the oil until tender and just beginning to brown at the edges. Stir in the ginger, garlic, and soy sauce and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool briefly.

3. Shred the potatoes, using the shredding disk in a food processor. Transfer the potatoes to a colander or strainer and use your hands or a wooden spoon to press out as much moisture as possible. Remove the shredding disk from the processor and replace with the steel blade. Return about one third of the shredded potatoes to the food processor and roughly puree, using the pulse motion.

4, Transfer the puree to a large bowl, add the remaining potatoes and the egg, salt and pepper to taste, the baking powder, and matzoh meal. Stir in the scallions until thoroughly combined.

5. Cook latkes following the directions for the classic potato latkes.

Mediterranean Chickpea Latkes

1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (one 15-oz. can), rinsed and drained

2 tsp. coarsely chopped garlic

1 tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

3 large eggs

1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin, preferably freshly toasted and ground

1 tsp. salt, to taste

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

3 tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

Canola oil, for frying

1. Puree the chickpeas, garlic, and rosemary in a food processor to a coarse paste. Add the olive oil, eggs, and 6 tbsp. water and blend until smooth. Add the cumin, salt to taste, pepper, flour, and baking powder and pulse to blend well. Transfer the batter to a large bowl.

2. Heat 6 tbsp. oil in a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches, drop the batter by heaping tablespoonsful into the hot oil. Regulate the heat carefully as the latkes fry until golden on both sides. To prevent the oil from splattering, use two spatulas (or a spatula and a large spoon) to turn the latkes carefully. 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. Drain on paper towels or untreated brown paper bags. If necessary, add more oil to the pan, but always allow the oil to get hot before frying a new batch.

Black Grape, Goat Cheese, and Noodle Latkes with Fragrant Honey

4 oz. medium flat egg noodles

2 large eggs

1/4 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 oz. fresh (not aged) goat cheese, chilled

1 cup black grapes (about 7 oz.), seeded and cut into quarters

Unsalted butter and mild vegetable oil such as canola or avocado, for frying

Fragrant honey

1. Bring 2 to 3 quarts water and 1 tsp. salt to a rapid boil in a large pot. Add the noodles and cook until just tender but still firm. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, walnuts, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste. Drain the cooked noodles thoroughly, let them cool slightly, then combine them well with the egg mixture. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the mixture until cold and firm, about 1 hour. The noodles will have absorbed all the egg.

2. Cut the cheese into bits and add it to the bowl, together with the grapes. Mix well.

3. Take about 1/3 cup of the mixture, making sure it includes some cheese and grape pieces, and shape it into a patty. Place it on a platter and continue forming patties until you have used up all the batter. Handle the patties carefully; they will be somewhat fragile. If time permits, refrigerate the patties to firm them up before frying.

4. In a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoonsful each of butter and oil over high heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches, add the latkes. Flatten each slightly with a spatula and fry quickly until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Turn carefully, using 2 spatulas or a spatula and a large spoon if necessary, and brown on the other side. Remove to platter.

5. Drizzle some honey on the hot latkes and serve immediately.

Chunky Cherry Applesauce

1. For an easy-to-make sauce sweetened with cherry preserves, combine 4 Gala (or other flavorful) apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 lb.) with 1/4 cup unsweetened apple juice in a large heavy saucepan.

2. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until apples are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Stir in 2 to 3 tbsp. cherry preserves (I prefer a sour cherry variety, but plain cherry preserves works well too). Using a potato masher or fork, mash the mixture to a chunky puree. Taste, add more preserves, if desired, and mash again. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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