2 yukon gold or russet potatoes (about 2 cups when grated)
2 sweet potatoes (about 2 cups)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2⁄3 cup all-purpose flour
1⁄2 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced or grated
1⁄2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup of vegetable oil or poultry fat
1) Grate the sweet potato and potato using the thick holes on a hand or box grater. Scoop up handfuls of the potatoes, wring out thoroughly over the sink and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Alternatively, use the grater attachment on your food processor.
2) Mix together the two potatoes, and add the ginger, allspice, beaten egg and flour. Stir to combine. Season mixture with the teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper, and stir thoroughly.
3) Line a large plate or cooling rack with a couple of layers of paper towel.
4) In a large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pan, heat 1⁄8 inch of vegetable oil or fat over medium-high heat. Test the oil by dropping a small spoonful of the latke mixture into it; it should sizzle immediately. When the oil is ready, scoop batter using a 1⁄4 cup measure or an ice cream scoop, and drop into the pan, leaving at least 1 inch between latkes. Use the back of a spatula or a fork to flatten latkes slightly, so that they have an evenly flat surface. Cook for about 2 minutes per side, until latkes are evenly golden. Transfer finished latkes to the prepared plate or rack. If using a plate, make sure to lay down paper towels between layers of latkes. If not serving immediately, keep latkes warm in a 200-degree oven.
5) Replenish oil as necessary, making sure to maintain 1⁄8 inch in the pan. Do not replenish oil while latkes are in the pan.
6) If you’re serving latkes immediately, set them on the rack only briefly, until some of their oil has soaked into the paper towel. Then serve while still hot and crispy. Alternatively, you can fry all the latkes in advance, and then reheat them in a dry cast-iron or heavy pan until they start to sizzle. Be sure to reheat on both sides of the latkes before serving.
Tonight will be the fifth night of Hanukkah, meaning I’m right on schedule. I have entered into the arena of latke fatigue — and perhaps you have to. It’s at this point in the holiday that I have had more than one too many classic, plain potato latkes. Many of them were delicious, made up of layers of pillowy shredded potatoes surrounded by perfectly crisp and crackly edges. But, at this point, both my mind and my palate are coated in a thick layer of oil and are in need of something new — a flavor to temper the richness of all the oil. If I were a chef on a cook-off show, this is when I would reach for the “acid,” to “balance the flavors.”
To find latke inspiration, I had to leave tradition aside to seek out something different — and, I knew just where to find it. For the past four years, the New York’s Annual Latke Festival has pitted chefs from some of the city’s top restaurants against one another in a latke showdown. This year was no different: 17 chefs took on the challenge to create a latke that would satisfy some 300 guests and a group of judges with some very serious food credentials.
On Agripas Street in Jerusalem, between the workers’ diners and the outdoor market, there is a Kurdish Cultural center. With a dwindling number of native born Kurds, each year their legacy slowly declines. Many of their descendents have naturally assimilated into Israeli culture and no longer keep the traditions of my family’s ancestors.
Sadly, the language, dress, music, folklore….the entire way of life of my ancestors is now almost exclusively confined to the pages of academic research. Food is often the last vestige of a bygone era to survive. It is what differentiates one ethnic group from another and it is also what binds them.
With the recent opening of Kutsher’s Tribeca, which bills itself as a modern Jewish-American bistro, much of the New York food world has been abuzz with talk of whether Jewish food can be gourmet. New York magazine and Chow.com took on the question this month, both citing Kutsher’s gefilte fish, which is made with poached wild halibut and topped with micro greens, as an example of the cuisine’s gourmet potential.
Food writers and avid Jewish foodies, however, seem unsure if Kutsher’s has accomplished this in this one dish — and perhaps it’s because they’re looking at the wrong food. While certain humble Jewish foods like gefilte fish, may never “go gourmet” — and arguably shouldn’t — others with more versatile ingredients lend themselves well to being elevated to gourmet status. Latkes, which at their most basic call for only five ingredients — potatoes, onions, oil, matzo meal and eggs — but exist in countless iterations fall cleanly into this category.
The winners of last night’s Third Annual Latke Festival, which pitted 17 chefs’ latkes against one another at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, proved that. The judge’s and my personal favorite, prepared by Jason Weiner from Almond restaurant, topped a classic and delicious latke with a superb house-smoked blue fish and goat yogurt. The latke was inspired by his grandmother’s recipe and his great uncle’s passion for fishing blue fish.