The custom of eating cheese pancakes and cheese delicacies on Hanukkah dates back to the Middle Ages and is related to the story of Judith, the daughter of a Hasmonean. According to legend, she fed cheese to Holofernes, the general of Nebuchadnezzar's army and archenemy of the Jews. He became so thirsty that he drank a lot of wine, got drunk, and was beheaded by Judith, leading to a Jewish victory.
In the United States, however, potato pancakes are the most popular Hanukkah food. Better known by their Yiddish name, latkes, they're good year-round! Latkes are called fasptshes or pontshkes by some Ashkenazim, and in Israel, levivot. Though my family considers latkes the main course, small ones can be served as an appetizer.
Both latkes and soofganiyot (donuts) are eaten on Hanukkah because they are fried in oil. Oil, especially olive oil, symbolizes the miracle of the cruse of oil in The Temple which lasted for eight days instead of one.
Latkes can be prepared ahead of time, and refrigerated or frozen until used. Reheat them at 300, on a rack over a cookie sheet till they're heated through. Cottage cheese pancakes are also a treat and a healthy adaptation of traditional buttermilk pancakes!
Today, more people are limiting cholesterol and fat in their diets. This has led to very creative adaptations of the traditional latke recipes. Egg whites or egg substitutes can be used in place of whole eggs. You can also use less oil when frying and top your latkes with low-fat yogurt or sour cream instead of high-fat sour cream. Probably the most practical piece of advice, however, is this: adopt a regular exercise program, use low-fat foods in your other meals, and enjoy your fried latkes! Moderation is the key word!
So, whether you're going to Israel or staying at home, here are some favorite recipes with which to celebrate the holiday. Hag Sameach (Happy Holiday) and Happy Hanukkah!
Latkes from Mom's Kitchen (potato pancakes) – pareve, depending on topping used.
Serves 4 hearty appetites
6 medium potatoes, cut in wedges
1 large onion, cut in wedges
3 tablespoons matzah meal or all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1-2 eggs (2-4 egg whites)
vegetable oil for frying
Optional: applesauce, sour cream or low-fat plain yogurt
Place shredding disc of food processor into mixing container. Closely pack potato and onion wedges into feed tube. Process while using food pusher to press potatoes and onion onto shredding disc. After processing, remove shredding disc and food from mixing container. Place steel cutting blade into container. Mix together matzah meal or flour, salt, baking powder and white pepper into mixing container. Process while adding eggs. Stop, unplug unit and scrape down sides of mixing container with rubber spatula whenever necessary. Add shredded potatoes and onion and process for a few seconds until mixed.
In one or two 12-inch skillets, heat oil to a depth of approximately 1/4 inch. Drop potato mixture by large spoonfuls into the oil. Flatten each mound slightly and fry in batches over medium-high heat until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels, changing the towels frequently as they absorb the oil. To keep the finished pancakes warm and crisp while you fry the rest (or to reheat them if they were fried in advance), place them on a rack set over a cookie sheet in a preheated 300 degree oven. Between batches add more oil to the skillet if needed, and make sure that it is hot enough before dropping in more potato mixture.
Serve hot with applesauce, sour cream or low-fat yogurt.
Potato Pancakes (dairy)
Makes 12-15 pancakes
2 pounds potatoes (6 medium) peeled, or unpeeled and coarsely grated
1 large onion
1/4 cup milk
1 carrot, finely grated
1 egg white and 1 whole egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup white flour or 1/4 cup matzah meal
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
oil for frying
Place the grated potatoes and onion in a colander set over a large bowl and press the vegetables to squeeze out the excess liquid. Let the vegetables stand for about 5 minutes, and press them again. Pour off the liquid, but leave in the bowl any starch that may have collected at the bottom.
Add the potato mixture to the bowl along with the milk, carrots, beaten egg white and whole egg, flour or matzah meal, salt, and pepper. Sit the ingredients to combine them thoroughly.
In a large, heavy skillet or nonstick pan, heat enough oil to cover the bottom. Using about 1/4 cup batter for each pancake, fry the pancakes a few at a time, turning them when they are golden brown on the bottom. As the pancakes cook, set them on paper towels, preferably laid over a rack, and keep them warm in a preheated very low oven.
Serve with applesauce, sour cream, or low-fat yogurt.
Cottage Cheese Pancakes (dairy)
Makes 12 to 14 pancakes
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1 egg white
1 whole egg
1 cup buttermilk or 1/2 cup buttermilk and 1/2 cup skim or low fat milk
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt, if desired
Optional: 2 tablespoons wheat germ
In a blender or in a bowl with an electric mixer, blend together all the wet ingredients.
In a medium bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Pour in the liquid mixture, and stir the ingredients just enough to blend them. For each pancake, spread 1/4 cup of batter on a hot, greased skillet. Cook the pancakes over moderate heat until they are golden brown on the bottom and the tops begin to bubble. Then flip them over, and cook them until the undersides are golden brown.
Adapted from Jane Brody's Good Food Book