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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Let There Be Light ... and Yummy Latkes!

Latkes. You've heard of them. You've probably eaten them. If this picture doesn't arouse your taste buds, perhaps reading about one of my favorite time honored food traditions will inspire you to create the delicacy connected to the holiday of Chanukah that starts tonight!

Photo courtesy of Anne Innis
CSA Member, PEP Team Member &
Overall Powisset Cooks enthusiast

Last Sunday in the Powisset Farm Kitchen we gathered for a workshop on Potato Latkes and Lantern Making. Eleven kids and eight parents explored the farm in it's quieter, winter mode. We hand-grated potatoes and parsnips for our latkes and made lanterns out of recycled 2 liter soda bottles.
We used two different latke recipes - one that I consider traditional and one that is a more modern adaptation. Traditional and modern may be somewhat subjective classifications to use for cultural food practices as traditions often vary from family to family. My family uses the food processor to grind the potatoes for our latkes into a mush-like consistency. Egg, salt and matzo meal or flour are then added to help the latkes stick together. This is our tradition. A family that is dear to my heart, though not related to me, insists that potatoes for latkes must be grated, ideally by hand, as this is their family tradition. 

Many moons ago I had the opportunity to attend the annual Latke Cook-off at the James Beard Foundation in New York City. Two top chefs and one Jewish grandmother competed in a blind taste test to see whose recipe would win. We were presented with sweet potato leek latkes, zucchini feta latkes and variations on the classic potato latke. At the end of the evening the Jewish grandmother was awarded first prize for her simple and delicious potato latke! When it comes to creating foods from our past there is a nostalgic component to taste that is separate from objective flavor. In order to set your taste buds up for success in these situations it can help to clarify whether you're embarking on a new culinary adventure or hoping to replicate the past. 

Here are links to the two recipes we used 
Traditional Potato Latkes by Claudia Roden from The Book of Jewish Food 

Both of these cookbooks are wonderful for different reasons. In this moment I am particularly enthralled with Jerusalem. This cookbook is stunningly gorgeous and everything I've eaten lives up to the quality of the aesthetic presentation. Check it out if you haven't already and Ottolenghi has six other cookbooks!

The KEY to both of these recipes is rinsing, straining and squeezing out the potatoes after they've been grated. This process removes all of the potato starch that can make the latkes soggy. Ideally you want your latke "batter" to be relatively dry.  I can't stress enough the importance of the rinsing, straining and squeezing process. The relative dryness of the batter, in combination with a good amount of oil in the pan, leads to easy frying and crispy latkes.   

While our latke were frying on 4 burners of our induction stove top, we transformed recycled 2 liter soda bottles into beautiful, tissue paper covered lanterns. Kids and parents approached the craft project with creativity and enthusiasm. Some lanterns were decorated with snowflakes, while others features dogs, hearts, and many other shapes. We melted a single candle into the bottom of the 2 liter soda bottle in preparation for our departure from the workshop into the dark night.

As you know, the daylight has decreased in the last months and the amount of darkness has increased. This will shift after the Winter Solstice this Sunday - the amount of daylight will slowly increase. Chanukah is a time to bring light into the darkness. By lighting candles and eating foods fried in oil (as oil was once used to burn wicks and create light) we celebrate our ability to transform darkness into light. Whether we are frying latkes, creating lanterns or spending time with family and friends, there are so many ways to bring light into the darkness.

We ended the evening by tasting our two different latke recipes.  Success! Warm and crispy, the latkes were enjoyed plain or with the addition of applesauce and/or sour cream. In the words of one participant, "the potato and parsnip latke was delicious, but the plain latke was fantastic!" Our bellies happy with our potato treats, it was time to head out into the night with the candlelight of our lanterns to light the way home. 

May we be blessed with abundant light in this holiday season -- light that illuminates, heals and brings joy and peace into all of the dark places! 

Photo by Anne Innis
Rachel and The Powisset Farm Crew

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