Lotsa latkes: Cooking contest winner Dan Rich mixes it up for Hanukkah
The great latke debate rages in my family.
Go traditional -- or tinker? Crispy or creamy? Applesauce on top, gravy or sour cream?
That's why I mix it up each year during the eight-day Jewish holiday, also called the festival of lights.
The holiday's roots go back more than 2,000 years. After a bitter battle and several years of political and religious oppression, a group of Jews, led by Judah Maccabee, took back the holy temple in Jerusalem from their Greek-Syrian foes. When they sought to light the temple's menorah, only a single day's worth of uncontaminated oil remained. Yet, it burned for eight days, giving them time to create more.
Modern Jews recall the miracle by lighting the menorah and eating foods fried in oil. Sephardic Jews, those of Spanish or Middle Eastern descent, make sufganiyot -- fried jelly doughnuts. But potato pancakes, or latkes, tend to be more popular among American Jews and those with Eastern European roots.
Latkes are a delicious treat, the perfect way to celebrate such a joyous occasion.
As my kids were growing up, I always served crunchy, or the traditional crispy latke made with grated potatoes, on the first night of Hanukkah, which falls on Dec. 24 this year. Dinner that night also goes the traditional route -- brisket or a roasted chicken, kugel, challah and a carrot salad, paired with lotsa latkes and followed by a serious game of dreidel played with chocolate Hanukkah coins, or gelt.
I played a CD of Hanukkah music while I cooked. And the smell of fried latkes always lingered until the next day, serving as a reminder of the holiday season. By the third night, my entire Elgin home smelled like, well, Hanukkah.
A few nights in and my family was usually up for a change. So I'd fry up creamy latkes, made with a mashed potato and paired at times with just a simple vegetable casserole.
As the holiday drew to an end, less traditional but equally satisfying latkes -- such as ones made with zucchini and sweet potatoes -- were a hit.
One year, in a bit of a stretch, I decided dessert latkes were in order: fried grated apples with a little lemon zest and topped with cinnamon sugar.
Latkes are typically made with russet potatoes, but you can use other types or veggies to help keep them interesting during the celebration. I'm a big fan of cooking with Yukon Gold, because of their rich, sort-of-buttery flavor.
I've provided a few recipes to try for yourself. After a couple bites, you too will be able to wage your own latke debate.
My favorite? Usually whichever one I'm having at the time.