Get Your Hanukkah Fry On
Menorah candles around the world will burn brightly tomorrow night, kicking off Hanukkah, the Jewish eight-day festival of lights.
In this hemisphere, we need all the light we can get as we inch closer to the darkest, shortest day of the year, aka the winter solstice (Dec. 22). If there's wind and other wintry conditions contributing to the atmosphere (which has been the case over the past few days in various parts of the country), frying up a storm seems like the right thing to do, whether or not you celebrate Hanukkah.
I'm not suggesting that we hop aboard the deep-fried fatty train, but a little fried fun is quite okay every once in a while, particularly when done in small batches at home.
For many, Hanukkah wouldn't be the same without a plate of potato latkes, cute little patties of grated potatoes and onions, mixed with a little egg and crumb-y binder, fried until crisp and served with applesauce (my favorite) or sour cream.
Last night, I made a batch of "batter" and instead of dropping several patties into the oil, I decided to make one big latke as an experiment. I poured my grated potato-onion mix into a hot puddle of oil about 1/4 inch deep, pressing the pancake down to flatten and keep thin. A few things to keep in mind: Unlike the smaller patties, a big latke requires more time, a slightly different rig and a more patient cook. For starters, I recommend a shallow skillet, so that when it comes to invert the latke, you will minimize breakage (although I did mine in a nine-inch cast-iron skillet without a hitch). Yes, you will need to flip the latke, but more importantly, you need to let the latke cook for at least 10 minutes without fussing over it. Yes, you can peek, but go easy, and keep an eye on that flame and adjust if the latke is starting to burning. When the latke appears golden on the first side, place a plate on top of the skillet and then invert, then slide latke onto a baking tray and finish cooking in a 400-degree oven. It will need at least 15 minutes, maybe more.
Many of you have asked if sweet potatoes can be used in place of the olde spud, and the answer is affirmative. Sweet potatoes are wonderful in this dish, and I like to add a smidge of cinnamon to the batter. If you live somewhere within reach of zucchinis, you could try these zucchini "crabcakes", zesty little fritters packed with flavor and seasoning flexibility. Use the above recipe link as a template and have a ball experimenting.
One of my favorite home-fried treats is a batch of pakoras, Indian-style veggie fritters made from a seasoned chickpea batter. These are great fun for a crowd, so if you've got Hanukkah revelers stopping by, everyone can pitch in, frying up a few pakoras to order. Don't forget to make the accompanying green chutney, a little bit of spice heaven on your tongue!
If you've got a little bit of time (or a cooking partner), I highly recommend trying your hand at your own falafel, without the mix. You need 24 hours of soaking time for the dried garbanzos or fava beans, but once they're ready, you can make the falafel batter in advance (it needs an hour to set up in the fridge anyway), and then fry when your guests arrive, who will be duly impressed by how wonderful these little morsels are, particularly if you take a few extra minutes to make your own tahini sauce. What a spread you'll have!
Of course, you can finish the evening off with a batch of sufganiyot, aka jelly doughnuts, or perhaps make these for brunch over the weekend.
After all, you've got eight days to go fry-crazy.
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