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Latkes light the way to the Hanukkah table

Thursday, December 06, 2001

By Karen Novak

When Hanukkah begins its eight-day run at sunset Sunday, three local women will be priming their fry pans for different versions of traditional potato latkes.

"Hanukkah is one of our more minor holidays," said Raye Coffey, Monroeville. "Potato latkes are the featured dish on most Jewish menus at this time."

Coffey says the many Jewish holiday cookbooks offer an array of latkes. "Designer latkes are now crossing our paths," she said.

She received a copy of "Jewish Cooking In America" by Joan Nathan as a gift. "It contains some 'new wave' latkes that I'm going to try. Some years I do the traditional latkes, which are very basic -- eggs, flour, potatoes -- but when I feel adventuresome I like to try unusual ones with sweet potatoes, zucchini or carrots."

She learned something about the tradition this year. "Latkes are derived from the Russian latka and it is not the potatoes that are important, it's the oil. It is symbolic of the cleansing and rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by Syria 21 centuries ago.

"There was one day's supply of oil that miraculously lasted eight days. I also learned that before potatoes came to Poland and Russia, European Jews made buckwheat groat [bulgur wheat] latkes. Isn't it wonderful to learn something new about your traditions?"

Coffey has a potato casserole she calls a kugel, which is "like replacing individual latke frying into one big one if you're pressed for time, which most of us are."

Latkes can be made ahead and reheated.

On the other side of Monroeville, Eva Edelstein, whose significant other is Rabbi Emeritus Harvey Edelstein, plans a healthful version of the dish. "I'm on the Dr. Dean Ornish diet, so I cut fat and calories whenever I can," she said.

She has made latkes replacing the flour and egg with tofu. "My family doesn't even know the difference. I also plan to make the Amazing Low-Fat Latkes which I found in Hadassah Magazine."

Edelstein has a secret to share when doing low-fat latkes: "Preheat the pan really well and use a cooking spray to aid browning."

She has a recipe for vegetable cutlets, which are "really a type of latke with a lot of flavor," she said. It comes from the "The Passover Table" by Susan Friedland.

"This has flavor and crunch, too."

Elaine Wolfe, also of Monroeville, will make the traditional potato latkes. "You want the grated potatoes to be almost dry, so I add water to sort of move the starch around and keep the potatoes from turning brown. Then you need to really drain them." Some of the women use coffee filters -- this lets water out through the filter and keeps the potatoes in.

"Hanukkah is not one of our more food-oriented holidays, so most families do their versions of latkes," she said.

Wolfe suggests buying "Beyond Chicken Soup," which is available at Temple David in Monroeville. Judy Sheffler of Monroeville worked on the committee to create the book. "It took the efforts of Parkway Center Sisterhood, Temple David Sisterhood and Hadassah Rishon to get this book done," she said.

The committee consisted of Sheffler, Helene Sheffler, Myrna Korfin and Robin Rosen. On sale since 1999, the book has a lot of Jewish holiday favorites, as well as everyday recipes.

"I've used this book for a lot of menus," said Sheffler. "It makes a great Hanukkah gift."

Elaine Wolfe's Traditional Latkes

6 medium russet potatoes (about 2 pounds)
1 medium yellow onion
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup flour or matzo meal
Vegetable oil for frying

Grate potatoes into bowl and add lightly salted water ("to move starch around and keep potatoes from darkening"). Drain potatoes as dry as you can (try a coffee filter).

Grate the onion and add to potatoes along with egg, salt, pepper and flour.

In skillet over medium high flame, heat 1/4 inch vegetable oil. Drop batter in heaping tablespoons into oil and flatten with spoon. Fry until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Drain well on paper towel. To keep warm, place on baking sheet in single layer in a 200-degree oven.

Note: "These freeze very well."

Raye Coffey's New Wave Zucchini Latkes

4 large zucchini, peeled and cubed
4 large carrots, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup chopped green onions
4 well beaten eggs
1/2 cup flour or matzo meal
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Peanut oil for frying

In food processor, process zucchini and carrots. Add onions and eggs and beat well. Add flour and remaining ingredients except oil. Mix well. Spray pan with cooking spray and add peanut oil to depth of 1/4 inch. Heat and drop mixture by tablespoons into hot oil. Allow to set well before turning. When crisp, drain on paper towels.

To reheat: place in 400-degree oven for few minutes.

Adapted from "Grandma Pantinkin's Holiday Cookbook"

Amazing Low-Fat Latkes

3 pounds potatoes (preferably Yukon gold)
1 medium onion
1/3 cup matzo meal or flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup egg substitute or 2 eggs and 4 whites
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons canola oil
No- or low-fat sour cream

Place nonstick baking sheet in oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Peel potatoes and onion and coarsely grate. Grab handfuls to wring out as much as possible. Transfer veggies to bowl and stir in matzo meal, baking powder, egg, parsley and plenty of salt and pepper. Pour oil onto baking sheet and spread with wooden spoon. If "frying" in two batches, use only half the oil here, saving the rest for second batch.

Spoon 2 1/2-inch mounds onto sheet with 1 inch in between. Bake until golden, 6 to 8 minutes per side, turning once. Serve with sour cream and/or applesauce. Serves 8 to 10.

Hadassah Magazine

Karen Novak is an East McKeesport free-lance writer.

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