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Jewish World Review
Dec. 8, 2004
/ 25 Kislev 5764
Chef Joseph Poon’s ginger and cilantro latkes are stamped with Chinese characters that represent (from left) prosperity, longevity and wealth. Poon sautés his pancakes without oil in a nonstick pan.
In the City of Brotherly Love, local non-Jewish chefs are cooking up their own versions of the Chanukkah staple
(KRT) If there's a food with nearly universal appeal, it would probably be the potato, and, more specifically, potato pancakes or latkes, as they are called in Yiddish and traditionally served by Jews at Chanukkah time.
Certainly, you don't have to be Jewish to love latkes, commonly made from grated potatoes and onions and fried in oil. Or to make them.
And Chanukkah isn't the only time of year Jewish cooks serve them. But with the eight-day celebration of Chanukkah underway, it is latkes that are on most of the holiday tables.
|RECIPES THAT WOULD MAKE YOUR BUBBY CRINGE|
Recipes for far-reaching latkes from Joseph Poon Asian Fusion and Chef Michael Dean Hazen, Continental Mid-town are featured below.|
Wasabi Latkes With Lox
Makes about 32 latkes or 8 servings
8 medium potatoes, peeled
1 medium onion
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup flour
1/4 cup wasabi powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup milk
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup peanut oil, approximate
Optional garnish: Watercress, caviar, applesauce, creme fraiche, or other condiments of your choice
1. Grate or shred the potatoes and onions on a large-hole grater. Splash with lemon juice and squeeze out excess water.
2.Combine the flour, wasabi powder, baking powder and nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add the milk and eggs, beating lightly to combine.
3.Stir the flour and milk mixture into the potatoes and onions, then add the melted butter.
4. In a large skillet on medium-high heat, add peanut oil to cover the bottom of the pan by up to 1/4 inch. When hot, but not smoking, add about 1/4-cup portions of the potato mixture, flatten slightly, and fry until golden on one side. Do not crowd the pan. Flip, and cook the other side until golden and crisp.
5. Repeat as needed to fry all of the potato mixture, keeping fried latkes warm until ready to serve.
6.Serve with desired garnishes, as an accompaniment to smoked or cured salmon or other foods of your choice.
Note: For Passover, omit the baking powder and replace the flour with matzo meal ground into flour. This makes a slightly denser latke, which should be fried slowly.
Chef Michael Dean Hazen, Continental Mid-town, Philadelphia
Asian Ginger and Cilantro Latkes
Makes about 10 servings
2 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled, cut up, boiled and drained
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
2 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs, or as needed
1/4 cup grated fresh ginger
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stems trimmed, leaves chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon melted butter
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked potatoes (drained but still hot), cream, crumbs, ginger, cilantro, salt and pepper, and butter, mixing until well blended, about 2 minutes. If the mixture seems wet, add more bread crumbs. Let the mixture stand, uncovered, for about 30 minutes.
2. When ready to proceed, divide the mixture into balls about 1 to 2 inches in diameter, as desired. Heat a nonstick skillet to medium-hot. Pan-fry the potato portions, flattening them to about 1/4- to 1/3-inch thickness. Fry for 1 minute on each side. (If desired, heat a small amount of oil, a teaspoon or two, in the pan for frying.)
Chef Joseph Poon, Joseph Poon Asian Fusion, Philadelphia
"Of course you can eat latkes all year long, but we make them every night during Chanukkah and then take a break from all that cholesterol for the rest of the year," Deborah Fleischman of Philadelphia said of her own family's latke tradition.
"I'm an old-fashioned girl and like [latkes] best grated and fried in lots of oil, extra crisp. That's what brings back memories of Chanukkah as a child for me," she said.
That doesn't stop her from enjoying other latke recipes, however.
And she and other latke aficionados had a chance to sample near- and nontraditional versions at the "Latkepalooza" tasting recently at the Gershman Y in Philadelphia. For the occasion, local chefs created and serve distinctive forms of latkes that reflect the style of their restaurants. It's the second year for what program chair Fleischman hopes will become the Y's signature Chanukkah event, as solidly linked to its holiday as The Nutcracker at the Academy of Music is to Christmas. (The Y is the Center City Arts and Cultural Branch of Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia.)
For the occasion, local chefs created and served distinctive forms of latkes that reflect the style of their restaurants. It's the second year for what program chair Fleischman hopes will become the Y's signature Chanukkah event.
The offerings this year included chef Joseph Poon's Chinese-style ginger and cilantro latkes; wasabi latkes and lox contributed by Continental Mid-town chef Michael Dean Hazen; and French-style cabbage latkes prepared by Fritz Blank, chef-owner of Deux Cheminees.
Guests sampled the Mexican latkes of chef Marcie Turney from Lolita; "eclectic American" latkes made by Twenty21 chef Mick Houston; sweet potato latkes from Bluezette's chef Khori Thomas; and more.
Latkes and other fried foods are served during Chanukkah as a reminder of the miracle that kept a one-day supply of purified oil burning for eight days when the temple in Jerusalem was rededicated and religious freedom restored in the Holy Land more than two millennia ago. Eight days was the time needed to purify new oil.
The standard latke recipe, as generally agreed, is a mixture of grated potatoes and onions with an egg or matzoh meal binder, pan-fried in oil.
Of course, even a good recipe may not be enough for some cooks. If, like me, you've ever secretly complained that Mom's version tasted more like wallpaper paste than potatoes, consider that the Jewish tradition of latkes during Chanukkah is said to have begun with a mixture of flour and water.
The meager sustenance was a reminder of the hurried food preparations before Judah Maccabee led his men into battle to liberate the temple.
Today's potato pancakes are far more tasty. Modern-day latkes have many ingredient options, from apples to zucchini.
Poon uses a wooden Chinese character stamp to emboss the surface of his low-fat latkes with the symbols for prosperity (good fortune), wealth (monetary), and longevity. He often includes the flavorful and, he says, more healthful potato patties on his banquet menus. He sautes them oil-free in a nonstick pan, but you can use a little oil if you like. Or you can serve the recipe simply as glorified mashed potatoes.
Meanwhile, Hazen's trendy wasabi latkes make a fine addition to a brunch menu, a tangy horseradish complement to both salmon and beef.
Whether to start with raw or cooked potatoes is perhaps the key point of difference among latke cooks. While variations calling for cooked potatoes make wonderful use of leftovers, taking the time to grate raw potatoes has its advantages: The cakes hold together better (more starch) and have better texture. Mashed potatoes tend to get mushy.
Here are a few tips gleaned from the experts for making the best possible latkes:
- When using raw potatoes, squeeze out as much moisture as you can after grating. This helps to ensure the crispiest result when the potatoes are fried. This goes for onion additions as well, since both veggies have a high water content.
- Once mixed and shaped, potato pancakes should be cooked fairly quickly. If left sitting too long, many potato mixtures will weep and discolor. Most latkes can be precooked, then reheated, about 10 minutes in a 400-degree oven, after guests arrive.
- Raw potato latkes are best made small to medium in size (up to three inches) and not too thick, to be sure they cook through without burning.
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Marilynn Marter is food columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.