Archive for the ‘Jewish Food’ Category
I am a latke
And I am waiting
for Chanukah to come
I’m not sure what to say about a song written from the point of view of a latke, one who is waiting for Chanukah to come in order to be…eaten?
It’s a bold move for any song writer.
I do appreciate the inclination to sing about latkes though. Who wouldn’t want to sing about something so delicious? Grated potatoes and onions fried up and eaten with apple sauce. I think I hear a song coming on.
Frying is not a cooking technique that I perform very often for obvious reasons. The prospect of using 2 cups worth of oil is daunting, but frying food is actually quite easy. Once I get past the guilt of doing it and the fear of burning down my house, I find frying food enjoyable — relaxing, even.
Here’s my favorite recipe for latkes. For lagniappe, I’ve included a recipe for apple chutney.
What? Did you think I meant the song to be lagniappe?
4-5 large russet potatoes
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup of matzoh meal
1 tbs. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 cups olive oil
Preheat oven to 200 degrees and place a rimmed cookie sheet inside. Using a food processor, grate the potatoes. Put them in a colander in the sink and drain for about 10 minutes. You may need to press down on it with a clean kitchen towel in order to get your potatoes very, very dry.
In a very large bowl, gently mix together the grated potatoes, onion, matzoh meal, flour, egg, salt, & pepper just until you feel like the ingredients have come together. It’s usually easiest to do this with your scrupulously clean hands.
Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Measure out the potato mixture with a 1/4 cup measuring cup. Drop measures into the oil. Cook no more than 4 latkes at a time. This will take a while, but it’s very important not to overcrowd the pan (the latkes will steam, not fry and being oily, mushy, and generally unpleasant). Fry until the latkes are golden brown on one side; carefully flip them over and brown the other side. Remove from oil.
Drain latkes on a plate covered with paper towels. Transfer those golden potato pancakes to the oven until you’re ready to serve. The classic accompaniments are applesauce and sour cream. In addition to these, I like to make an apple chutney.
2 apples (Braeburns, Pink Ladies, or Honey Crisps work well), peeled cored, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tsp. of mustard seed
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 cup apple cider
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Bring all of the ingredients to boil in a heavy saucepan. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, uncovered, or until the apples are soft, but still retain their basic shape. Makes about 1 cup. Can be made 2 days ahead. Serve at room temperature.
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve come across two different recipes for Pimento cheese spread, which must surely be an indication of our difficult economic times. Certainly, pimento spread has the kind of kitsch-value that might make it popular during the holiday season; namely, it’s tasty, cheap, and red. You can’t call it special though. It is, after all, made from cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, and bottled red peppers. Even made well, pimento cheese spread is still reminiscent of a really bad day in the school lunchroom.
Not all cheese spreads are so pedestrian.
Liptauer — a Hungarian spread that is also tasty, cheap, and red — fills a similar culinary niche, but it’s more interesting than pimento cheese spread could ever be. Think of it as pimento cheese’s exotic second cousin — the edgy one with the old world accent, the one with international kitsch-value.
True, it does have a rather prosaic foundation: cream cheese. It really takes off from there though to include ingredients like cornichons, capers, Dijon mustard, and garlic. Some recipes even call for anchovy paste.
However, even with its more exotic flavor profile, Liptauer is, at heart, a traditional food that is best enjoyed on chunks of rustic bread, with pints of dark beer, and in the company of friends. I’m not sure that the same can be said for pimento cheese spread. So, to kick off the holiday season in the correctly kitschy way, here’s a recipe for–
2, 8 oz. packages of Philadelphia-Brand Cream Cheese, room temperature
8-10 cornichons, chopped finely
5 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained, and chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
2 teaspoons caraway seeds, toasted and crushed with the back of a large, heavy knife (or in a mortar & pestle)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tsp. anchovy paste or one filleted anchovy, chopped finely (optional)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Olive oil, for drizzling
It’s not traditional, but a sprinkle of Spanish smoked paprika tastes and looks great on top
In a large bowl, use a rubber spatula to thoroughly combine the cream cheese through the salt and pepper. Transfer to a small bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Chill thoroughly. Can be made three days in advance. To serve: Remove liptauer from the refrigerator and leave at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Just before serving, stir and adjust the seasonings; transfer to a serving dish (if necessary); drizzle with olive oil and garnish with smoked paprika. Liptauer tastes best on chunks of rye bread.
This Friday evening, Jews around the world will celebrate the first night of Chanukah with menorah lightings, blessings, and foods that honor the miracle of the oil.
Technically speaking, I am not Jewish, but this year my family will observe Chanukah anyway. In the past, I’ve made latkes and left it at that. My head told me that this was as much as I could do, that I didn’t have a right to this holiday, but my heart disagreed. This year my heart won, and I’m looking forward to celebrating the holiday for the first time. More than anything else, I want to do justice to the traditions of the holiday, traditions that I readily acknowledge to be borrowed.
Because I am borrowing them, I want to treat these traditions with great care and respect. Above all, I want to avoid observing the holiday as some kind of religious tourist: “Oh, look at the pretty little menorah–how quaint, and wouldn’t these latkes would be delicious with bacon?”
No, to the extent that I am able, we will try to celebrate Chanukah as a Jewish family would. Every evening at sundown, Mimi will wield the shammash candle and light the menorah, while I sing the ancient Chanukah blessings in Hebrew. And, after studying Kashrut dietary laws, I’m planning 8 nights worth of Kosher meals.
This is the most obvious way for me to understand Jewish traditions. Food is an amazing inroad to culture, maybe none more so than Jewish culture, which is, of course, scattered all over the globe. In addition to theology, the preservation of ancient Jewish values and traditions seems to be concentrated in food and recipes, things that can be stored in the memories of peoples and individuals, treasures carried in the mind. In her work, The Book of Jewish Food, the great Claudia Roden evokes this idea when she writes:
Every cuisine tells a story. Jewish food tells the story of an uprooted, migrating people and their vanished worlds. It lives in people’s minds and has been kept alive because of what it evokes and represents.
I’m interested in celebrating those “vanished worlds” during Chanukah this year, partly because I sense that my own ancestors may have once been citizens of these lost worlds. I’d like to try to recover some of richness of Jewish tradition for my own child and — who am I kidding? — for myself.
So, with our friends Tom and Angie and their daughter Lydia, Jim and Mimi and I are going to have a little party on Saturday night, the second night of my first Chanukah. We’ll light the lights and enjoy the evening with foods that honor the star of the Chanukah celebration — olive oil — and dear friends. And then we’ll head out to Opelika’s Victorian Front Porch tour, a celebration of a very different sort.
Here’s the menu. Except for the latkes and the liptauer — foods I’ve been making for years — the dishes come mostly from the Sephardic tradition since I’ve been reading a lot about Sephardic cooking lately (more on that soon).
Orange Marinated Olives
Rosemary~Cayenne Roasted Nuts
Liptauer with Crackers
Latkes with Apple Sauce & Sour Cream
White Bean Salad with Lemon and Cumin
Fennel & Orange Salad
Olive Oil Lemon Tart
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Vin du Maison
As a side note: Tikkun magazine and the Network of Spiritual Progressives co-sponsor a webpage dedicated to exploring the holidays of many of the world’s religious traditions. Their Chanukah Guide is available on this page and is a useful resource for non-Jews who may be interested in respectfully observing the holiday.