RANCHO MIRAGE, CA — With all the admonitions against eating fried foods, the words of a rabbi come to mind.
Dipping into a stack of crispy latkes (potato pancakes), he declared, “There are no calories in eating Hanukkah foods cooked in oil.”
Everybody in the room cheered.
While the declaration about festive calories might not be true, Jews around the world look forward to sundown Sunday when they light the first candle of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.
And wait for the latkes.
“There are two miracles connected with Hanukkah,” said Chaya Posner of Chabad of Rancho Mirage.
The first miracle is the victory of the Maccabees’ small band of warriors against the Greeks in 164 BCE.
“The other is the miracle of the oil,” Posner said. A small vessel of oil lasted for eight days. We celebrate it by cooking foods in oil.”
The first two Jewish foods that come to mind are latkes and sufganiot — Israeli deep-fried jelly doughnuts.
The latest trend is to put out a latke bar with a variety that might include sweet potato, guacamole, Cajun or zucchini.
The other lesser known tradition is serving dairy foods, in honor of Judith’s slaying of a Greek general.
Is that why sour cream is the traditional accompaniment for latkes?
“No, I think it’s because they taste so good together!” Posner said.
Below is a basic recipe for latkes, courtesy of recipezaar.com. Find a recipe for sufganiot on page D2.
Basic Potato Latkes
4 large potatoes or 2 cups raw grated potatoes
1 medium onion
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
Salt, to taste
1-2 tablespoons flour or Matza meal
Dash of pepper
Canola or other vegetable oil for frying
Wash the potatoes. According to preference, potatoes can be peeled or unpeeled for latkes. Grate either by hand or in a food processor. Rinse in ice water and dry.
Grate onion in food processor and combine with potatoes. Add baking powder, salt, pepper, flour or matza meal. Beat eggs well and mix with the rest of the ingredients. Allow to rest while oil comes to frying temperature. Heat about a half inch of oil in large skillet. Drop batter by spoonfuls into oil and cook until crispy brown on both sides. Serve with applesauce and sour cream. Makes 4 servings.
11/2 cups slightly warm water or slightly warm milk
1 tablespoon yeast
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
3 1/2 -4 cups unbleached all purpose flour (or half all-purpose and half bread flour)
Fine sugar or sugar (for coating donuts)
1 cups raspberry jelly (optional) or raspberry jam (optional) or apricot jelly (optional) or apricot jam (optional)
Shortening (three parts oil and one part melted shortening for frying, to fill up a good two-thirds of fryer)
Whisk together the yeast, water, sugar, salt, oil, egg yolks, egg, vanilla and lemon extract. Blend well and stir in most of the flour to form a soft dough. Knead by hand, machine or in bread machine (dough setting), adding flour as needed. The dough should have some body, not too slack, supple, smooth and elastic.
Place in a greased plastic bag and refrigerate at least 2 to 4 hours or overnight. If you are in a hurry, allow dough to rest at least 20 minutes, then proceed. If dough has risen at all, punch or flatten down, then pinch off pieces and form into small balls, about the size of golf balls. Otherwise, roll dough out to about three-quarters of an inch.
Using a 2 or 3 inch biscuit cutter, cut out rounds. Cover and let sit 15 minutes while heating oil.
In a deep fryer or heavy dutch oven, heat about 4 inches of oil or a combination of oil and melted shortening. Add the doughnuts to the hot oil (temperature should be about 375 Fahrenheit) and fry until the undersides are deep brown. Turn over once. Lift doughnuts out using a slotted spoon and drain well on paper towels.
To fill, make a small opening and spoon in jam or jelly, or just sprinkle lightly with regular or extra fine granulated sugar by shaking doughnuts in a paper bag.
Test oil temperature: It’s a good idea to try frying one doughnut to start. Once the doughnut seems done, take it out and cut it open to see if the inside is cooked.