With Hanukkah right around the corner, local Jewish chefs and home cooks are readying their recipes for latkes, the traditional dish also known as a potato pancake.
Making latkes and other fried food is a tradition that commemorates "The Miracle of the Oil" -- that famous one-day supply of oil that miraculously lasted for eight days after the Jews fought off the Syrians, celebrated on each night of the holiday by lighting one candle on a menorah. Though oil and potato are primary latke ingredients, many, including local chefs and residents, have put their own twist on the holiday staple. Below, read about a cross-cultural twist on the latke, a substitute for the standard potatoes and a practical "fix" to a common latke challenge.
Roni Antebi's father-in-law lived in Syria until the age of 16. Due to the political climate and restrictions on Jewish people, he escaped -- but not without taking ideas for his own spin on a latke recipe.
"Without telling anyone from his family, including his parents, he and his best friend made their way to Israel," recalled Antebi, programs director at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Palo Alto.
Because of his upbringing in Syria, Antebi's father-in-law was familiar with "ejjeh," a common egg-based dish resembling an omelet. He used this as his inspiration for latkes. Antebi's family has prepared their version of latkes inspired by his fusion with "ejjeh" for decades.
"Since the recipes are very similar and it was a well-received dish at home, they tried, and it worked," Antebi said.
Servings: 15-20 latkes
• 1 cup chopped scallion
• 1 cup finely chopped parsley
• 100 grams feta cheese
• 3 eggs
• 2-3 tablespoons bread crumbs
• 1 or 2 tablespoons self-rising flour
• Pinch of salt and pepper
Mix ingredients and wait 15 minutes for the flavors to come together. Scoop out pancake-sized portions and fry in hot oil on both sides. Serve hot.
Nourish Cafe's zucchini latkes
Robert Stayte, the culinary director at the Oshman Family JCC and the head chef at the JCC's Nourish: A Newish Jewish Cafe, said he plans to prepare several types of latkes during the Hanukkah celebration this year.
"We make latkes for the traditional, the newish Jewish and for the not traditional at all," Stayte said.
One example of a twist: using zucchini instead of potatoes -- also a healthier option, he noted.
"The zucchini latke does not crisp up as much as the potato, but it does taste like a latke. It retains its latke essence because the main ingredient, zucchini, is grated like in potato latkes. Then it is seasoned and fried in oil, the same way a potato latke is," Stayte said .
Servings: 25-35 small latkes
• 7 medium zucchinis, grated (about 4-5 cups)
• 4 eggs, beaten (use egg substitute for a vegan version)
• 1 medium onion, grated
• 1/2 cup matzo meal
• 1 teaspoon fresh, chopped Italian parsley
• 1 teaspoon fresh, chopped marjoram
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• Ground pepper to taste
• Oil for frying
In a large mixing bowl, toss grated zucchini with 3/4 teaspoon of salt and let stand for 20 minutes. Thick paper towels may be used to separate the zucchini into layers.
Using paper towels or a fine sieve, squeeze or press the liquid from zucchini until it's dry.
Stir in the eggs, onion, matzo meal, pepper, herbs and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
In a heavy skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Use a large tablespoon to drop mixture into oil and flatten. Fry for 2 minutes per side or until golden brown, adding oil as necessary. Put finished latkes in warm oven while frying the remainder.
Serve with sour cream.
Menlo Park home cook Marc Drucker has never liked the fact that latkes often fall apart and crumble, making for a difficult eating experience if they're not prepared and cooked perfectly. His answer to this common dilemma: use potato puree, which he said naturally holds the latke together for a more ideal -- and less messy -- potato pancake. He discovered this "fix" to the traditional recipe on his own, and has stuck with it ever since.
"In general, when making latkes, you're making a mess. After years of practice, I have found a recipe that is foolproof," Drucker said.
Servings: 12-14 latkes
• 2 pounds Yukon Gold or russet potatoes, peeled
• 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into eighths
• 1 large egg
• 4 medium scallions, minced
• 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
• 2 tablespoons matzo meal (optional)
• 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and black pepper
• 1 cup vegetable oil
In a food processor fitted with a coarse shredding blade, grate potatoes.
Fit the processor with the blade and take half of the potatoes and onions and put in processor.
Mix with reserved potato shreds in a sieve and press against sieve to drain out as much liquid as possible.
Beat egg, then add potato mixture and remaining ingredients (except oil) and mix.
Heat the oil, and fry 1/4 cup of the potato mixture at a time until golden brown.