I know we are three months ahead of the celebration, but I feel it is never to early to come to the defense of the classic Jewish latke.I have the worst of the experiences this past Hanukah eating latkes at one of our local synagogues. Since I work for a Jewish organization and it was time for our annual celebration it was decided that it will take place at the conservative local synagogue in order to take advantage of their catering services. So that went well until they presented us with the “piece of resistance” of the whole Hanukah holiday: LATKES.
Well, let me describe to you the way they look. No respectable latke should ever look like that: they looked like DIET. They have HEALTHY written all over. They were OIL-LESS and they were made of POTATO AND ZUCCHINI (I bet to cut on the calories). They tasted like nothing (NO SALT; it is not healthy) and they look like non-Jewish croquets.
Would you agree with me that a LATKE is not a potato and anything but onions little piece of heaven?
What happened to us, Jews? How is that we became impervious of the appeal of a good latke?
Let me volunteer my definition of a LATKE: a latke is an oil dripping, potato and onion exclusively tasty FRIED SALTY food that should connect us with memories, childhood or otherwise.
A decent latke, a real latke, would instantly bring us back to our past, so we can see the face of our bubbes and zaides, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends again alive in our minds, imagine the smells, and basked again in the radiance of the love we received through food. Eating a latke has to be an emotional experience as well as a gastronomic one.
A latke is tradition, people!
Our tradition was not build upon zucchini and carrot, at least not around the Hanukah time of the year. I will even argue that zucchini is not part of our Jewish tradition (and it will never be). An avant – garde zucchini latke is no longer a latke. I does not longer generates nostalgia.
We have to defend the latke, because he cannot defend itself. We have to cherish the tradition and the recipes, we have to pass them along to our children, we have to remember that oil was the way that the miracle of Hanukah materialized.
You can eat zucchini the whole year, and I am not saying it is not an awesome veggie. In fact, I have a lot of sympathy for it.
But it is not for Hanukah. Stick with onions and potatoes. You can never go wrong with that. You don’t want our ancestors revolting in their Polish, Russian and Hungarian graves, do you? They may even become so mad that they may come back and take us with them. I am positive, though, that they will leave the zucchini latkes behind.
This is all you need to connect with your past and your true heritage: let me share with you
My recipe for Latkes:
6 potatoes (red are better than yellow)
2 big onions (grated)
Salt (be generous, please)
Pepper (I personally am generous too)
Matzo meal 1/2 cup (even if it is not Pesach)
2 tablespoons of oil
Grate the potatoes and squeeze the liquid out of them as much as you can. Combine it with the grated onions and the rest of the ingredients.
If the preparation is still runny feel free to add more matzo meal.
In a big skillet with AT LEAST AN INCH of oil (canola or corn are fine) that is at least 350 F start adding the latkes by the spoon. Flatten them up as you fry them. Turn them the other side when you see they are starting to be golden brown. Do the other side. Take them out and layer them on paper towels on a tray.
Serve them with sour cream (not the low calories one, the real good stuff) and apple sauce (you can make your own, it is not complicated and much more delicious).
THAT IS, MY FRIENDS, IN MY OWN INTERPRETATION AT LEAST, A REAL LATKE. THAT IS A LATKE THAT CAN LOOK AT YOU IN THE FACE AND NOT FEEL ASHAMED OF ITSELF.
I wish you all a happy and healthy Hanukah celebration. Let’s hope this Hanukah will bring us the authentic, the never boring, the amazing real LATKE to our hearts delight.