Home December 2016 You say Potato, I say Potato

You say Potato, I say Potato

1216cookingThe crunchy, irresistible potato latke—only for Hanukkah? Check any Jewish deli menu, and the answer is a resounding “NO!” But for Ashkenazi Jews Hanukkah would not be Hanukkah without them. So how did this holiday symbol evolve?

“The Maccabees never saw a potato, much less a potato pancake,” writes rabbi and food historian Gil Marks in the “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.” Brought by the Spanish from South America to Europe, the potato was considered poisonous and wasn’t considered edible for centuries until the French began cultivating it in response to the famine of the late 1700s that followed the French Revolution.

“The latke as we know it took quite a culinary journey,” explains Liz Alpern in “The Gefilte Manifesto” (Flatiron Books, $35), co-authored with Jeffrey Yoskowitz, “beginning centuries ago in Italy as a cheese fritter fried in olive oil, then moving northeast, where it morphed into a buckwheat and rye pancake, and then a turnip fritter fried in schmaltz. Finally, in the mid 19th century, the potato took over.”

Today we see all manner of iterations and alterations, including the root vegetable variation shown here, adding vibrant color and flavor to the dish.  “Note that if you prefer a pure potato latke,” advises Alpern, “simply substitute six small russet potatoes (about 3 pounds) for the veggies in this recipe.”

The key to adding vegetables to your latke repertoire is to drain the shredded vegetables thoroughly, cautions Alpern. And remember, “the root vegetable version is a bit lighter and more fragile than the purely potato version, so take care when forming into latkes for frying.”

Preparing latkes for Hanukkah really connects Alpern to her Jewish roots.  “While the rest of New York is feverishly buying gifts and planning big family meals, I’m quietly grating potatoes by the light of the menorah. In contrast to so many other Jewish holidays, Hanukkah celebrations are relaxed and loose. It feels like all I need to do is fry up some latkes, and I am in the perfect holiday spirit.”

And why a salad for Hanukkah, you ask? True, the holiday is all about the oil, but it needn’t be a total frying frenzy. While we do commemorate the miracle of that tiny cruse of oil burning for eight days, I don’t remember the rabbis saying we had to use it solely for frying.

Health watchers take note. “Contrary to conventional wisdom, saturated fats play an important role in the body and are essential for health,” Simone Miller, author of “The New Yiddish Kitchen” (Page Street, $28) told Chef Series attendees at the JCC in Irvine last month. “Avocado and extra virgin olive oils are both healthy fats, but in different capacities. Avocado has a high smoke point, making it great for high heat cooking. Extra virgin olive oil degrades when heated, so is best used in cold applications, such as in salad dressings and added at the end of cooking to finish a dish.”

“The New Yiddish Kitchen” emerged from an e-book by Miller, blogger (ZenBelly.com) and chef/owner of Zenbelly Catering, and coauthor Jennifer Robins, founder of the food blog Predominantly Paleo. “Bloggers live for holidays,” said Miller. “That’s how they get their traffic, so we thought, let’s do some Hanukkah recipes. There was nothing available that you could call Paleo Jewish, recipes without gluten, dairy, grains and refined sugar, although the e-book sold mostly for the bagel recipe,” she admitted. “A gluten-free bagel was the hardest recipe to figure out. There was none on the market worth eating. I’m the child of two New Yorkers. If it’s not right it shouldn’t be called a bagel. We fed them to gluten eaters, and they passed the test.”

The Paleo diet is not fat-free, Miller noted. “Fat has been vilified for five decades, since the sugar industry conspired, we are first finding out, to blame fat and not sugar for heart disease and other ailments. Eating fat doesn’t make you fat.”

Loosely known as the “caveman diet,” the Paleo diet favors vegetables over meat, “but eat good quality meat that has been raised properly,” she noted. “We eat the rainbow, including as many colors as possible, real food, with no grains, dairy, legumes, refined sugar or processed food, which may be inflammatory. The diet is pre-agricultural, emphasizing things that have been hunted and gathered. Today we do all of our hunting and gathering at Whole Foods.”

But relax. Because everyone’s bodies are different, individualizing the diet is the key to better health, she explained. “There’s a whole list of foods where stressing about them is more unhealthy than actually eating the food.”

Root vegetable latkes

Makes 18 to 22 latkes

 

4 russet potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled

1 medium parsnip, peeled

1 medium turnip, peeled

1 small onion

4 scallions, finely chopped

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/3 cup breadcrumbs or matzo meal

Schmaltz or peanut, canola, or grapeseed oil, for frying

Apple-Pear sauce (see jlifeoc.com), for serving (optional)

Sour cream

 

  1. Shred potatoes, parsnip, turnip, and onion on large holes of box grater or in food processor using shredder plate. Transfer grated vegetables to large bowl; add cold water to cover. Let sit about 5 minutes.
  2. Drape cheesecloth or clean, thin kitchen towel in empty bowl; add shredded vegetables. Wrap cheesecloth or towel around vegetables and squeeze tightly in bowl. Repeat until as much liquid as possible has been removed. White potato starch will collect at bottom of bowl. Carefully drain off water, reserving potato starch. Set aside.
  3. Place drained vegetable shreds in large bowl. Add scallions, eggs, salt, pepper, flour, breadcrumbs, and reserved potato starch. Mix well, preferably using your hands.
  4. In 9-inch nonstick or cast iron skillet, heat layer of schmaltz or oil, about 1/8 inch deep, over medium heat. Form latke batter into thin patties, using about 2 tablespoons for each. As you form patties, squeeze out and discard any excess liquid. Carefully slip patties, about 4 at a time, into pan and fry 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and crisp. Take care to flip them only once to avoid excess oil absorption. If pan begins to smoke, add more schmaltz or oil and heat again before frying another batch.
  5. Remove latkes; place on baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain excess fat. Latkes are best and crispiest when served right away. If serving later, transfer to separate baking sheet and place in oven at 200°F to keep warm until serving. Serve hot, topped with Apple-Pear Sauce (see www.jlifeoc.com for the recipe) and/or sour cream.

 

Source: “The Gefilte Manifesto” by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern

 

Field Greens with Pomegranate Seeds and Maple Vinaigrette

Yield: 4-5 servings

7 ounces mixed field greens

4 ounces pomegranate seeds

4 ounces pecan halves or pieces, roasted and salted

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup avocado oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon dried parsley

Juice from 1/2 lemon

  1. In large serving bowl, place greens in bottom, followed by pomegranate seeds and topped with roasted pecans.
  2. Maple vinaigrette: combine remaining ingredients in a cruet and shake well to combine thoroughly.
  3. Once ready to serve, drizzle desired amount of dressing over greens and toss to mix ingredients. You’ll have dressing left over, which can be refrigerated until ready to use.

Source: “The New Yiddish Kitchen” by Simone Miller and Jennifer Robins

 

Root vegetable latkes

Makes 18 to 22 latkes

4 russet potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled

1 medium parsnip, peeled

1 medium turnip, peeled

1 small onion

4 scallions, finely chopped

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/3 cup breadcrumbs or matzo meal

Schmaltz or peanut, canola, or grapeseed oil, for frying

Apple-Pear sauce (see jlifeoc.com), for serving (optional)

Sour cream

  1. Shred potatoes, parsnip, turnip, and onion on large holes of box grater or in food processor using shredder plate. Transfer grated vegetables to large bowl; add cold water to cover. Let sit about 5 minutes.
  2. Drape cheesecloth or clean, thin kitchen towel in empty bowl; add shredded vegetables. Wrap cheesecloth or towel around vegetables and squeeze tightly in bowl. Repeat until as much liquid as possible has been removed. White potato starch will collect at bottom of bowl. Carefully drain off water, reserving potato starch. Set aside.
  3. Place drained vegetable shreds in large bowl. Add scallions, eggs, salt, pepper, flour, breadcrumbs, and reserved potato starch. Mix well, preferably using your hands.
  4. In 9-inch nonstick or cast iron skillet, heat layer of schmaltz or oil, about 1/8 inch deep, over medium heat. Form latke batter into thin patties, using about 2 tablespoons for each. As you form patties, squeeze out and discard any excess liquid. Carefully slip patties, about 4 at a time, into pan and fry 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and crisp. Take care to flip them only once to avoid excess oil absorption. If pan begins to smoke, add more schmaltz or oil and heat again before frying another batch.
  5. Remove latkes; place on baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain excess fat. Latkes are best and crispiest when served right away. If serving later, transfer to separate baking sheet and place in oven at 200°F to keep warm until serving. Serve hot, topped with Apple-Pear Sauce (see www.jlifeoc.com for the recipe) and/or sour cream.

 

Apple-Pear Sauce

Applesauce is a great way to utilize bruised or imperfect fruit. The variety of apple doesn’t matter too much; the sweeter the apple, the sweeter the sauce. This recipe also calls for pears, which provide natural sweetness, as well as apple juice or cider, which adds a deeper and sweeter flavor.

Makes 5 to 6 cups sauce

2 pounds apples (about 6 medium), such as McIntosh, peeled, cored, and quartered

2 pounds sweet pears (about 5 medium), such as Bartlett, peeled, cored, and quartered

1/2 cup apple juice, apple cider, or water

2 cinnamon sticks

1 to 4 tablespoons pure maple syrup or sugar (optional)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (optional)

  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, combine apple and pear quarters, apple juice, and cinnamon sticks and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 to 40 minutes. The apples will soften and puff up a bit as the heat draws out their liquid. When you can smush the fruit by pressing on it with a spoon, it has finished cooking.
  2. Turn off heat and remove cinnamon sticks. Mash mixture with potato masher or improvised masher (an empty jar works well). For a smoother applesauce, purée using immersion blender or food processor.
  3. If you’d like your sauce sweeter, stir in maple syrup or sugar (start with 1 tablespoon and add more if needed). Stir in lemon juice, if using, which adds a bit of tartness to balance out the sweetness. Let sauce cool.
  4. Serve at room temperature. Sauce will keep in refrigerator about a month. If storing for later use, transfer to airtight container and freeze.

Source: “The Gefilte Manifesto” by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern

 

Field Greens with Pomegranate Seeds and Maple Vinaigrette

Yield: 4-5 servings

7 ounces mixed field greens

4 ounces pomegranate seeds

4 ounces pecan halves or pieces, roasted and salted

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup avocado oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon dried parsley

Juice from 1/2 lemon

  1. In large serving bowl, place greens in bottom, followed by pomegranate seeds and topped with roasted pecans.
  2. Maple vinaigrette: combine remaining ingredients in a cruet and shake well to combine thoroughly.
  3. Once ready to serve, drizzle desired amount of dressing over greens and toss to mix ingredients. You’ll have dressing left over, which can be refrigerated until ready to use.

Source: “The New Yiddish Kitchen” by Simone Miller and Jennifer Robins

Jlife food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.

 

 

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