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Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are back-to-back this year, meaning harried menu planners have to cope with festive celebrations two nights in a row. Let the potato come to the rescue!
Potato pancakes, or latkes, are traditional at Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish Feast of Lights that begins Friday. These pancakes are traditionally made from grated potato mixed with egg, onions, matzo meal and seasonings, according to The New Food Lover's Companion, a food dictionary. Latkes are fried and served hot as a side dish.
Potato pancakes can also be made with leftover mashed potatoes - and that's where Thanksgiving comes in. Mashed potatoes are an integral part of today's dinner, either anointed with butter or a dollop of turkey gravy. But mashed potatoes are never appealing the day after.
Seasoning and shaping the mashed potatoes into a fried patty or pancake is the solution.
Just be careful. Passing off a mashed potato pancake as a latke may shock traditionalists and spark an argument. Tell any dissers that even Joan Nathan, the noted Jewish cooking authority, offers recipes for mashed-potato latkes.
Pancakes beg for some kind of topping. Sour cream and applesauce are traditional. Be creative: Consider topping the latkes with thinly sliced smoked salmon or a dollop of crème fraîche garnished with sevruga caviar. You could also use a sauté of onions and peppers cut into colorful julienne strips, or simply sprinkle minced scallion or chives on top.
Either way, mashed or grated, potato pancakes are a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday, a commemoration of the rededication of the temple by the Maccabees after their victory over the Syrians.
Use a baking potato like a Russet for latkes. Grate the potatoes and onion using a four-side box grater, a mandoline slicer fitted with a grater plate or a food processor with a grating disc. Make sure you wring the potatoes very dry in a towel. Use muscle if you have to. Drier gratings won't need flour to hold together, making for a lighter, cleaner-tasting latke.
2 pounds potatoes
1 onion, about 4 ounces
3 teaspoons kosher salt
Peel the potatoes and onion. Grate.
Put the grated potatoes and onion in a clean dishtowel, and wring dry. You should be able to squeeze out between 1/2 to 3/4 cup of liquid from the vegetables.
In a large bowl, combine the potato, onions, eggs and kosher salt.
Heat 1/2 teaspoon of oil in a skillet. As the oil comes up to temperature, begin forming the pancakes. Don't worry about being too neat; you can use a spatula or spoon to push the grated potato into a roughly 2-inch wide pancake. Do try to make the pancakes thin for extra crunch.
Cook 1-1/2 to 2 minutes on each side, or until the pancakes are crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels, and serve hot. Makes 24 latkes.
MASHED POTATO LATKES
Use cold, leftover mashed potatoes for this dish. If you want, stir in some minced scallions or chive for extra flavor and color.
Remember that how you season the latkes depend on how well you seasoned the mashed potatoes when you made them. Chris uses a bold hand, incorporating lots of butter, cream and salt, so he uses less seasoning when making latkes.
2 cups cold mashed potatoes
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 to 6 tablespoons flour
1 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon oil
Mix the cold mashed potatoes, the eggs and the flour together in a large bowl. You need the egg to help bind the potato together. But the egg makes the potato too wet, so you need the flour to bring the potato back to its original consistency. Start with just 2 tablespoons of flour. Add the rest if needed.
Season the potato mixture, using 1 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt, depending on how bland the potatoes were to begin with.
Form the pancakes, making patties about 2 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick. Chris uses a 3/4-cup measuring scoop to measure out a uniform portion.
Heat 1/2 teaspoon of oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is almost smoking, slip the pancakes into the pan. Brown on both sides, about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes on each side.
Drain on a plate lined with paper towels, and serve with your favorite toppings. Makes about 20 latkes.