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Hanukkah arrives early

The Hanukkah festival takes place on the 25th day of the ninth month on the Jewish calendar. This can fall anywhere from late November to late December on the Gregorian calendar. Hanukkah is “early” on most world calendars this year. Hanukkah is a minor festival but has grown in secular popularity, perhaps due to the fun traditions and delicious food. To commemorate the importance of oil during the celebration, many people enjoy fried foods like falafel, jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot), and potato latkes. I haven’t perfected any doughnut recipes, so head down to Ruby Doughnuts in Ayer sometime between Nov. 28 and Dec. 6 in honor  of the festival. What I can offer is a potato pancake, or latke, recipe for all to enjoy.

Potato Latkes

  • 2½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • ¼ cup potato starch
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus extra for sprinkling
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups matzoh meal or 2 cups Ian’s gluten-free panko breadcrumbs
  • Lots of canola oil for frying

Makes about 18.

If you are using a food processor, use the grating blade to shred the potatoes and the onion, then transfer to a large mixing bowl. This may be done in batches, depending on the size of your machine. If you are shredding by hand, use a box grater to shred the potatoes. Dice the onion finely.

Put the mixture in a colander or over-the-sink strainer and press the water out. Press and drain twice more, waiting a few minutes and stirring the mixture between each draining.

Transfer the potato and onion mixture to a large mixing bowl. Use your hands to mix the potato and onions with the potato starch, salt, pepper, lemon juice, lemon zest, and baking powder until the potatoes have released some more moisture and the starch is dissolved, about two minutes.

Add the matzoh meal or gluten-free breadcrumbs and mix well. Set aside for about 10 minutes. The mixture should be somewhat loose but hold together when pinched. If it seems excessively wet, add a little extra matzo meal or gluten-free breadcrumbs.

In the meantime, preheat a large cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Have ready a baking sheet lined with paper towels for draining the oil from the latkes. Setting cooked latkes on a cooling rack also works well to drain the oil. Add at least a half inch of oil to the pan. Do not go light on the oil. If it fits safely in the pan it is not too much oil. While the oil heats, form some latkes.

With wet hands (so that the mixture doesn’t stick), roll the mixture into golf balls, then flatten into thin patties. Get about six ready before you start frying.

The oil is hot enough when you drop in a pinch of batter and bubbles rapidly form around it. If it immediately smokes, then the heat is too high and you should lower it a bit. If the bubbles are really lazy, just give it a few more minutes or turn up the heat a bit.

Working in batches, fry the latkes until golden brown, about four minutes. Flip over and fry for another three minutes. Transfer the latkes to the lined pan or cooling rack to drain, sprinkle with a little salt. Serve warm.

Note: I highly recommend doubling the batch to account for cook’s tasting privileges or if you are serving more than three people. If making a bigger batch, you may want to have the oven on at 200º F to keep the latkes warm until you’re ready to serve. Leftovers can be frozen and reheated in the oven or toaster oven. Since we are in Harvard, I recommend topping with applesauce. Some people may prefer sour cream and chives. This recipe is based on Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s classic latke recipe. I have adjusted it over the years and melded it with other recipes and techniques along the way.

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