Love those latkes Made of grated potatoes, eggs and onions and fried in oil, the Hanukkah pancake has survived the centuries -- and the current fear of frying.

December 17, 1997|By Connie Dufner | Connie Dufner,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

Hanukkah is the Jewish holiday on which people make no apologies for fried food. Indeed, oil is the culinary star of the show.

The oil is the key ingredient in the Festival of Lights, the holiday that celebrates an unlikely military victory more than 2,000 years ago. A tiny amount of sacred oil burned miraculously for eight days, as tradition goes, after a hard-won battle for religious freedom.

In the modern celebration of Hanukkah, which begins at sundown Dec. 23, the battle of the bulge takes a break as families savor the seasonal treat of latkes, fried potato pancakes.

Sure, you can make them less lethal. You can brush them with oil and bake them; you can spray a nonstick pan with oil and heat them; you can use egg substitutes or egg whites to reduce the fat.

But who would want to? Even the most fastidious fat-gram counter will eat a latke or two on Hanukkah. The rest of us lose count.

The plain potato variety, with your own blend of potatoes, flour or matzo meal, onions and salt, works just fine. But you can dress them up, too. Many recipes call for grated zucchini, apples, ricotta cheese and sweet potatoes, and carrots or parsley to add variety.

Served with a hearty vegetable dish or a salad, latkes can be the centerpiece of a meatless meal.

For those observing kosher dietary guidelines that forbid the serving of meat dishes and dairy products in the same meal, several options are possible. Some recipes, such as the vegetable side dishes, may be served with either meat or dairy meals. Some kinds of fish, such as smoked salmon, can be served with meat and dairy meals.

The versatile latke presents a problem at party planning time, however. It's good enough to eat by itself, preferably before it even gets to a serving platter, but conscientious cooks feel obligated to serve something between the latkes and the jelly doughnuts, another Hanukkah treat that glorifies grease.

A recent cookbook takes a decidedly '90s approach to Jewish cooking.

The authors of "The Great Chefs of America Cook Kosher" (Vital Media Enterprises, $36) have traveled to America's top restaurants to present recipes adapted for kosher guidelines.

The cookbook offers a recipe combining potato latkes with smoked salmon and horseradish cream, served with mixed greens. No oil to heat up here; these latkes are baked.

Idee Schoenheimer, one of the authors, says she made 200 latkes one year, and when the plate was empty, she wondered aloud where they had gone. The 25 guests admitted to having only about three each.

"What happened to the rest of them, then?" she says. "People can just OD on them. What can you do?"

On the side

Traditional accompaniments are sour cream, yogurt and applesauce.

For a meat meal, you could pair the latkes with brisket and hot vegetable dishes such as stir-fries. A dairy buffet may include tuna, pasta, fruit and egg salads.

On the sweeter side, many cooks choose to serve fruit compotes, chutneys and preserves with sour cream. Or you may decide to spike your sour cream with savory spices.

You can make latkes ahead of time and freeze them. In "Jewish Holiday Kitchen," author Joan Nathan suggests making the latkes, placing them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, then freezing them. When frozen, remove the latkes to a plastic bag. To serve, reheat on a baking sheet at 450 degrees for several minutes.

Potato Latkes

Makes 10 servings

10 medium potatoes

2 medium onions

2 large or 3 medium eggs

1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, bread crumbs or matzo meal

salt and white pepper to taste

vegetable oil

Peel the potatoes if the skin is coarse. Otherwise, just clea them well. Keep them in cold water until ready to prepare the latkes.

Starting with the onions, alternately grate some of the onions on the large holes of the grater and some of the potatoes on the smallest holes. This will keep the potato mixture from blackening. Press out as much liquid as possible and reserve the starchy sediment at the bottom of the bowl for another purpose if you like.

Blend potatoes with the eggs, flour, salt and white pepper.

Heat 1 inch of oil in frying pan. Drop 1 tablespoon of mixture for each latke into the skillet and fry, turning once. When golden and crisp on each side, drain on paper towels.

Per serving: 159 calories; 5 grams fat; 64 mg cholesterol; 237 mg sodium; 26 percent calories from fat

From "Jewish Holiday Kitchen" by Joan Nathan (Schocken Books, 1988)

Herb-Marinated Tomatoes

Makes 4 servings

2 large tomatoes, cut in 1/2-inch slices

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Arrange tomatoes on a platter, slightly overlapping slices. Sprinkle with basil, parsley and oregano.

Combine lemon juice and vinegar; drizzle over tomatoes. Cover and chill 2 hours. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Per serving: 26 calories; trace fat; no cholesterol; 140 mg sodium; 10 percent calories from fat

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