Wednesday, November 28, 2007

 

Make a little oil go a long way in these Hanukkah pancakes

 

Latkes

Latkes from "Quick & Kosher: Recipes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing" are a lighter version of the traditional potato pancakes.

By

Lisa Zwirn

Globe Correspondent

 


Grating, mixing, endless frying, spattered surfaces, and the lingering smell of oil are unenviable parts of making potato pancakes for the Hanukkah celebration. The reward is golden brown latkes, thin fritters that are crisp, tender, and potato-y with a hint of salt and onion.

On Hanukkah, which starts the evening of Dec. 4, frying foods is an ancient tradition, connected with the miracle of the sacred oil at the time of the Jewish military victory over King Antiochus of Syria in 165 B.C.E. To rededicate the desecrated holy temple, only enough oil was found to light the menorah for one day, but miraculously it burned for eight. Hence, Hanukkah, known as the festival of lights, is celebrated for eight days. In the kitchen, Jewish cooks all over the world prepare foods fried in oil. In this country, that means latkes, often served with applesauce; Israelis prepare sufganiot, a kind of doughnut usually dusted with confectioners' sugar.

For years, cooks here have tried to come up with lighter latkes. An oxymoron? Perhaps. But two new cookbooks boast recipes. And compared to thick, solid, oil-laden cakes, the newly thin, petite, and less dense fritters are downright ethereal. I decided I'd also try a modern and practical solution for kitchens with less-than-perfect exhaust fans and cooks watching their waistlines.

First I cooked from the new books. In the big, illustrated "Aromas of Aleppo" (HarperCollins), author Poopa Dweck explains that the foods of Aleppo, Syria, and most Middle Eastern countries, are lighter and more vegetable-oriented than the European-based Ashkenazic cuisine (food from Jews who lived in Eastern Europe). For centuries, says Dweck on the phone from her home in New Jersey, Aleppo had a thriving and prosperous Jewish community, but no longer; its descendants are now scattered across the globe.

Dweck is a first generation Syrian-Jewish American and has been very active in preserving the traditions of her family's homeland. Her potato fritter recipe, which was her mother's and is made year-round, contains five eggs, three large potatoes, and no flour or matzo meal. "My mother always said to make sure there's enough eggs," says Dweck. "The batter needs to be loose, so [the fritters] are not too heavy." The pancakes, which are seasoned with a little allspice, are crisp and delicate.

"Quick & Kosher: Recipes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing" (Feldheim Publishers) also offers a lighter version of the cakes. Author Jamie Geller writes that her shredded-potato latkes, from her European grandfather's recipe, "are not loaded with potato starch, flour, baking powder, or other non-essential ingredients." While the book promises that no recipe takes more than 15 minutes of prep time, frying a half-dozen or so batches of potato pancakes adds another 45 minutes. But it's easy, mindless work, and eager family members make the time go quickly.

Finally, pursuing a route that doesn't require the cook to stand at the stove frying, I tried some experiments. I decided to leave the skillets where they're stored and turn on the oven. I set out to make a thin, roasted potato cake using high oven heat, minimal oil, and a large sheet pan.

To accommodate a four-potato, four-egg batter yielding about 10 servings, I used a heavy-duty 12-by-17-inch pan with 1-inch sides (this is also called a "half-sheet," and is slightly larger and sturdier than an ordinary jelly roll pan). I put the pan, with a thin film of oil, into a 475-degree oven to become super hot. Then I added the grated potato mixture. This step helps the large cake brown and prevents it from sticking to the pan. It takes about 25 minutes for the cake to cook through, but to ensure a golden and crisp top, I slipped the pan under the broiler. It was a huge success, browned all over, easy to cut into squares.

If your family is like mine, there might be squabbling about who gets the brownest, ultra crisp latkes. When roasting one large potato pancake, there are plenty of edges for everyone.

And there are the other advantages. No spattering oil. No greasy burners. No flipping pancakes in glistening oil. The potato cake, which can be cut into as many as 32 pieces, isn't low calorie, but it absorbs only 1/4 cup of oil (latkes in a skillet use at least twice that). Surely this is enough oil to satisfy the Hanukkah tradition.

Just make sure your oven has a self-cleaning option.


 

 

Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.


Potato latkes

Serves 8

4 medium baking or russet potatoes

3 eggs, lightly beaten

2 Tablespoons matzo meal

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

6 Tablespoons canola oil, or more if necessary

1. Peel the potatoes and slice them in half lengthwise. In a food processor fitted with the grating disk, grate the potatoes through the feed tube. Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl.

2. Add the eggs, matzo meal, salt, and pepper. Mix well.

3. In a heavy 12-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Drop 6 to 8 spoonfuls of the batter into the hot oil. Flatten the mounds slightly using the back of a spoon. Fry for 3 to 4 minutes or until the bottoms are golden. Turn with a spatula and fry until the other sides are golden.

4. Drain on a paper-towel lined plate. Continue making latkes, adding more oil to the pan, if necessary. - Adapted from "Quick & Kosher: Recipes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing"

 

 

Roasted potato latke

Makes 32 pieces or enough to serve 10

Oven roasting a large latke means no stovetop mess. Don't skimp on the oil or the potatoes will stick to the pan. You'll need a professional-grade, aluminized-steel sheet pan that measure 12-by-17-inches, with 1-inch sides (chefscatalog.com or williams-sonoma.com).

4 large baking or russet potatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds)

1 medium onion, halved

4 eggs, lightly beaten

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil

1. Set the oven at 475 degrees.

2. Peel the potatoes and slice them in half lengthwise. In a food processor fitted with the grating disk, grate the potatoes and onions through the feed tube. Transfer the mixture to a colander. With your hands, squeeze the mixture to rid it of excess water.

3. In a large bowl, combine the potato mixture, eggs, salt, and pepper. Mix well.

4. Pour the oil into the pan and set it in the oven. Heat for 2 to 3 minutes or until the pan and oil are very hot. The oil should not be smoking. Use a potholder in each hand to remove the pan carefully from the oven and set it on a heatproof surface. Gently swirl the oil around in the pan to fully coat the bottom and halfway up the sides. Set the pan down again. Quickly transfer the potato mixture to the pan it will sizzle spreading it with the back of a spoon to form an even layer. Immediately return the pan to the oven.

5. Bake the latke for 25 to 30 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown.

6. Turn on the broiler. Leave the pan in the oven. Slide the pan so it is about 6-inches from the broiling element. Broil the cake for 5 to 8 minutes, watch it carefully, or until it is browned and crisp on top. If not serving immediately, turn off the oven and let the pancake sit for up to 10 minutes. Make 7 lengthwise cuts and 3 crosswise cuts to form 32 pieces. Use an off-set spatula to lift them out of the pan.

Lisa Zwirn

 

 

Potato fritters

Serves 6

Syrian-Jewish American cookbook author Poopa Dweck's potato fritters contain neither flour nor matzo meal.

3 large baking or russet potatoes, peeled and left in cold water

5 eggs, lightly beaten

1 onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)

1 teaspoon ground allspice (optional)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup vegetable oil

 

1. In a food processor fitted with the grating disk or on a box grater, grate the potatoes through the feed tube. Transfer the mixture to a colander. With your hands, squeeze the mixture to rid it of excess water.

2. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, eggs, onion, allspice, if using, and salt. Mix well.

3. In a heavy 12-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When the oil sizzles when a drop of water hits it, drop a heaping tablespoonful of the batter into the pan. Flatten the mound with the back of a spoon. Add about 7 pancakes or as many mounds of batter as you can without crowding. Fry for 3 to 4 minutes or until the bottoms are golden. Turn with a spatula and fry until the other sides are golden.

4. Drain on a paper-towel lined plate. Continue making fritters, adding more oil to the pan, if necessary.

Adapted from "Aromas of Aleppo"