Grate expectations for Chanucah dinner
For one week only, we are encouraged to reach for the deep fat fryer
Latkes, the ultimate fried potato pancake, is the traditional method of putting on weight at Chanucah
Once again we celebrate Chanucah and the miracle of the oil which lasted for eight days after the recapture of the Second Temple. This is the reason that oil has evolved as Chanucah's symbolic ingredient.
Although we British Jews favour latkes (from the Yiddish term for a Ukrainian potato pancake), other nations have their own deep-fried treats. Israelis have their sufganiot - or doughnuts - luscious yeasty balls sometimes filled with jam, which suit sweeter palates.
The Spanish adore their bimelos or fritters and the Greeks loukoumades - small yeast puffs soaked in honeyed syrup. While the Italian fritto misto has evolved into a kind of tempura - fritters made from slivers of vegetables and fruit.
Deep-fried foods can have debilitating side effects. In biblical times, Judith of Holfernes caused the Assyrian leader to fall asleep by cooking him a form of latke - without potatoes of course - probably with some form of simple grated cheese combined with eggs and flour. After he had eaten quite a few of these delicacies, he fell into a deep sleep and she was able to kill him and once again the Jews were saved.
And why would there not have been potatoes? Because potatoes were introduced from the New World at the time of Queen Elizabeth I and later in the century found their way into Eastern Europe where they became very popular.
So before the advent of the potato latke in the 18th century, Jews were more likely to be eating cheese latkes or latkes made with leeks, cauliflower or even cabbage depending on their wealth. It is only in relatively recent times that latkes made with potatoes have become so popular.
And how to make the perfect latke? Some feel that the liquid that oozes out of the grated potato and onion mixture is better squeezed away. However after making both on your behalf, I reckon that the latkes made with juice have a better flavour while retaining the nutrients in this liquid. It is easily absorbed by adding matzah-meal rather than flour.
Then how to stop the potatoes from darkening (oxidising) when in contact with air? Some suggest preparing all the other ingredients first and then quickly grating the potato and adding it at the end. Certainly that can be successful. But there is still a likelihood that if a large amount is prepared, the potatoes will still have time to blacken.
So adding a touch of ascorbic acid or vitamin C powder - an eighth of a teaspoon - or a dash of lemon juice, to the potato plus a touch of baking powder, will stop the oxidisation and make the latkes more fluffy. Two pans make the job simpler.
And this year I thought it would be exciting if I suggested some new ideas to customise your latkes.
Tempt the family by adding simple delicious ingredients. If your family like spicy food mix in one finely chopped red chilli - remove seeds or not depending on your level of tolerance - and add a thumb-size amount of grated ginger plus a generous amount of chopped coriander for an east-meets-west latke.
Or substitute half the potato for grated carrot and courgette. The results will be an extraordinary multicoloured but delicious pancake which is perfect for veggie-hating children- serve with well-seasoned mashed cauliflower with spring onion.
Or why not make a sweet potato latke. Season with cinnamon or mixed spice and serve dusted with icing sugar, apple sauce and a generous dollop of soured cream.
Whatever your fancy, enjoy your latkes and chag sameach.
Makes 56 tablespoon-size latkes
● 1.36 kg, 3lb large well cleaned potatoes (skins left on, cut into chunks)
● 5 medium free-range organic eggs
● 1 medium red onion peeled and cut into quarters
● 113g, 4oz matzah meal
● Salt and pepper
● Pinch baking powder
● Oil to fry
● Grate or process onions and beat in eggs.
● Grate potatoes in a food processor and add quickly to mixture.
● Add the matzah meal and baking powder.
● Pour oil into frying pans. Heat the oil. Drop a little batter in to check the heat.
● Drop spoonfuls carefully into pans.
● Turn when golden and fry on other side.
● Drain on absorbent kitchen paper.
● Variations – add chillies/ginger/coriander to potato batter.