Tonight begins Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. Unlike other Jewish holidays, where I, as a Jewish person, fast or give up leavened foods, this holiday encourage me to celebrate with one particular kind of food: fried food.
Really. That's why latkes, potato pancakes fried in oil, are the official food of Chanukah. Many people also celebrate with donuts; last year I had a party where I served latkes, donuts and fried chicken. People thought I'd completely lost my mind, but there wasn't a crumb of crispy coating left.
Why all the fried food? The story behind the holiday is that one of the great temples of the Jews was destroyed, and they had to rebuild it. But they only had enough oil in the oil lamp to last for one day. And then, miraculously, that oil lasted for 8 nights of flame, so the Jews had the time to rebuild the temple.
Which is how the Festival of Lights also became the Festival of Fried Food.
So, while health conscious Jews across the world are moaning with concern about the extra fat and calories, let's me break down some simple truths:
1. Yes, latkes are cooked in fat. No way around that.
2. Most 3 to 4-inch latkes will run you 80-100 calories (see recipe below). Like a banana.
3. Less is more with a latke. If you've ever overeaten the latkes, you know what I mean. Two latkes should definitely be enough. After all, you need to leave room for brisket, right?
If you'd like to sample lots of latkes, I have a great idea you: Have all the latkes you want, just space it out over the 8 days of Chanukah. I have selected 8 latke recipes from CookingLight.com; here's the list with a little commentary from yours truly:
Classic Potato Latkes: If this is your first latke endeavor, start here. Look at that photo! Lacey latkes like these are a classic for a reason; enjoy with apple sauce. (shown above)
Mashed Potato Latkes with Zucchini and Dill: There are two camps of latke makers, those who use shredded (think: crispy edges) and those who prefer a mashed potato, coated and fried. The mashed potato latkes run the risk of becoming a "hockey puck" unless a deft hand is used for the preparation. In this recipe, the zucchini and fresh dill help lighten it right up.
Parsnip-Potato Latkes with Horseradish Cream: Parsnips are the apple of the root vegetable world. So sweet and flavorful, if you haven't tried them yet please do. And that horseradish cream adds just the right amount of bite to counter that parsnip sweetness.
Leek, Potato and Caraway Latkes with Spiced Sour Cream: Sephardic Jews (Jews that are typically from Spain, Morocco and India), like to put leeks and spices in their latkes. Sephardics are known to have some of the best recipes around, and this one is no exception.
Potato-Zucchini Skillet Pancakes with Cherry Tomato Salad: So once you've mastered the latke, have one for dinner! This skillet pancake is designed to be the base of a meal; serve it with a fried egg, or some roast brisket and you've got a special, delicious dinner treat.
Smoked Trout with Apple Horseradish Cream on Potato Pancakes: I would eat smoked trout and horseradish cream on just about anything, but I'm going to need a few moments of silence and appreciation when I enjoy it on top of a crispy potato pancake. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Cilantro-Jalapeno Latkes with Chipotle Sour Cream: I thought by now you'd be excited to experiment with something just a little bit edgy, so why not heat up the place with peppy jalapeños, cooling sour cream, and rich, spicy chipotles. This is for the latke epicure.
So there you have it; 8 Cooking Light-approved latke recipes, averaging at 80-100 calories per latke. The only question left is: where to begin?