I’m bored. Maybe it’s the 40-year itch, but I’ve been making the same Hanukkah potato latkes for decades. (Not that there’s anything wrong with them. Several years ago, in reviewing my first cookbook “Melting Pot Memories,” Food Editor Cathy Thomas of The Orange County Register called them “crispy-brown snowflakes” and “lacy, almost-crunchy wonders”…but I don’t like to brag.) Now I’m itching for something new.
Like the song about love, I seem to be lookin’ for latkes in all the wrong places, because lately, daring latke diversions have been popping up where I least expect them, and I’m like Alice in Latke-land. They all seem to say, “Fry me!” “No, me!”
For Hanukkah it’s all about the oil. When Judah Maccabee and his tiny army defeated the Syrian-Greeks, they found only a tiny flask of oil with which to purify the desecrated Temple. Miraculously, it burned for eight days, setting off a frying frenzy that has lasted for centuries.
But who says traditional potato latkes are the only fritter fit to fry? My latkes this year come from unusual sources. (No Jewish cookbooks were injured in the writing of this story.)
Latkes from a novel? In Sharon Boorstin’s irresistible romp, “Cookin’ For Love” (chick-lit for the 49-year-old-plus set…with recipes, of course), Miriam, a married Jewish cookbook author, fantasizes about food while her divorced friend, Kate, fantasizes about a past relationship. When Kate heads to Muslim Malaysia, she begs Miriam to come along.
Miriam’s thoughts seldom stray from food – a waxing reminds her of Grandma Estelle plucking a chicken – and when she awakens from a dream about Grandma’s latkes to find her cleaver-toting captor frying curried onions, it’s an “aha” moment of the kitchen kind. Cashews! Ginger! This is a latke with pizzazz!
Next, Hanukkah shopping for my grandchildren, I stumble on Joanne Rocklin’s “The Very Best Hanukkah Gift,” chosen by the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries as one of the best Hanukkah books of the past few years.
In the story, eight-year-old Daniel, an awkward middle child, eagerly awaits Hanukkah – eight nights of candle lighting, games and gifts, not to mention the wonderful food. But while Daniel revels in the story of the brave Maccabees, he has to face his own dog phobia before his sister’s dream of a puppy for Hanukkah can come true. To top it off, his mom is making green latkes! GROSS! Daniel faces both challenges, and I’ve got another recipe. Made with zucchini – the holiday is not about the potato, but the oil, remember – these latkes are called “Miracle Latkes,” as they use hardly any oil at all. Healthy and delicious, and I don’t have to wear them. Now, that’s a miracle!
And speaking of healthy, when I’m hankering for a low-fat dish with panache, the Moosewood Collective never lets me down. These 19 folks who own and operate the legendary Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York, helped put vegetarian dining and organic foods on the culinary map (the restaurant is not kosher, but their cookbooks offer some great recipes for all). So this mecca of healthy, natural food would hardly be the first place I’d look for latkes to fry. But, wait. Potatoes are vegetarian, and this lemon-scented sweet potato pancake makes a fine…excuse me? Dessert? Another surprise, but why not! A sweet ending to a sweet celebration.
Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.