Hanukkah: A Celebration of Oil
Growing up I hated it when Hanukkah and Christmas didn’t overlap. It reminded me how different I was in such a Christian country. Sure, I received presents first, but by the time my Jesus-following friends ripped open their gifts of My Little Pony and bikes and, lets be honest, socks, I forgot about my equally as lame cool gear.
But as my brother and sister and I moved out of the house, and as we all maintained different schedules, it no longer mattered when Hanukkah (its date determined by the Hebrew calendar) landed. We knew we’d all be home over Christmas, so that is when we exchanged gifts. In fact, it became our ritual to exchange on Christmas night — we knew all of our friends would be busy with their families.
Last night was the first night of Hanukkah. And I’d never been so happy to have the Festival of Lights occur this far from Christmas and this close to Thanksgiving.
Cue the mashed potatoes.
In actuality, latkes are a celebration of oil. When the Jews re-dedicated the Holy Temple they wanted to light the menorah. They only found enough oil to light it for one night, but somehow, as some fantastic storyteller that goes by the name of Bible tells us, that tiny bit of oil lasted for eight nights. The miracle!
Somehow that translated into frying a grated potato in oil and smothering it with apple sauce. Hey, who am I to question Bible. I’m sure she was a very nice lady that just couldn’t get enough of her deep fryer.
Anyway, my dad sent me home from Thanksgiving with a hefty tub of garlic and parsley mashed potatoes (made by my brother). At the time, I didn’t know how to handle the leftovers, but knew I would figure something out.
And then last night was Hanukkah and I felt nostalgic. But instead of grating potatoes and cutting onions, I decided that substituting mashed potatoes for raw potatoes would work wonderfully. I was right.
Mashed Potato Latkes
In a large bowl add two cups of mashed potatoes (mine happened to have garlic and parsley already in them, but it’s not necessary; use whatever leftover mashers you have). I wanted to add more flavor to the potatoes so I chopped up pungent celery leaves and added that in with the potatoes. I then stirred in 2 tablespoons of flour and one whisked egg, plus salt and pepper, making sure everything was incorporated.
I then placed a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet and used an ice cream scooper to portion out the latkes. I made the latkes smaller than normal (at least smaller then my grandmother made) because I figured, the more latkes the more area that would become crispy.
Now this is the real trick. I learned this method (although not for latkes) from chatting with Nage chef Glen Babcock. Once the latkes were portioned out, I placed plastic wrap over top and let it sit in the freezer for 45 minutes. I wanted to make sure that the latkes would stay together in the hot oil. I also learned that you don’t have to de-thaw before frying.
In a cast iron pan I heated canola oil, about 1/4 high, and then placed four latkes in the oil at a time – right from the freezer. I even kept the latkes in the freezer in between batches. I let the latkes sizzle for 2-3 minutes per side, then let them drain on a paper towel for 30 seconds before setting them on a platter sitting in a 250 oven.
While the latkes were in the freezer I made a quick topping by mashing cream cheese into spicy mustard, horseradish, a bit of creama Mexicana, salt and pepper. For extra decadance, I let a sliver of lox adorn the creamy dip.
The other topping was also leftovers from Thanksgiving – slightly chunky apple sauce.
The latkes came out perfectly – crisp on the inside and creamy (just like mashed potatoes!) in the inside. And actually, this is all we ate for dinner. I consider it pre-back (instead of payback) for when I force my boyfriend to eat winter squashes for the next 3 months.