This post is a week later than I had hoped. I have been in a food coma, having survived seven of the eight days of Chanukah, which ends at sundown tomorrow night. Forget the holiday dessert swap, the candy canes, the champagne. The biggest diet wrecker this time of year is the “minor” Jewish holiday of Chanukah.
The Christian household may be adorned with luscious green wreaths and holiday icicle lights. At Chanukah time, the Jewish household has a curl of oniony smoke emanating from the chimney.
The holiday celebrates that a band of fighters called the Maccabees, sturdy men—all of whom were doubtless too short for their weight—defeated a large Syrian army to reclaim the Jewish Temple. In the temple, they found a jug of oil, with enough fuel to light the ritual lamp for one day. But miracle of miracles, the oil lasted eight days, and this without Calphalon non-stick pans. For this reason, Chanukah is also called the Festival of Lights. Note that it is not, under any circumstances, to be considered the Festival of “Lite.”
To celebrate the miracle of survival, we eat everything fried in oil. The most common food we eat is called “latkes,” which is Yiddish for “28-point-globs-of-fried, grated-potatoes-and-onions-that-make-your-hair-smell-like-Church’s-Fried-Chicken.” Ha, ha, ha, it’s not a joke. Eight latkes are 28 points. That’s a lot of pilates.
There are ways to make the latkes “lite.” You could bake them on a searing, oil-coated baking sheet or in individual muffin tins. (“That doesn’t count!” my kids screamed, when I said I wanted to try it this year.) You could replace some of the potatoes with zucchini and carrots, which makes them very flavorful and adds vitamins, not to mention some nice Christmas color. My sister made low-fat apple “latkes,” which were basically like baked apples, held together with a touch of flour. They were a delicious dessert, but certainly no substitute for the genuine latke. Or you can just go ahead and celebrate the real, greasy, onion-y, luscious thing, like I did, and resolve to walk 280 minutes at a moderate pace before the next weigh-in.
If you’re in the neighborhood, you’ll see me out there in my track suit, no doubt with a pack of animals trailing the wonderful latke scent that has seeped into my skin, hair, and clothing.
Psst. Here’s my favorite recipe:
4 large potatoes
1 large onion
2 tablespoons matzo meal
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Wash and peel potatoes and onions. Cut into large chunks and grate by hand or with a food processor.
Drain the grated potato-onion mixture over a pot or bowl, reserving the potato starch/water. The key to crispy latkes is to make sure all the water is drained.
Press down on the mixture every five minutes to hasten the draining process, repeating until the mixture no longer squishes.
Place the potato-onion mixture in a mixing bowl, and blend in the matzo meal, egg, salt and pepper.
Carefully, pour the liquid out of the bowl/pot with the potato water, reserving the thick, starchy paste (potato starch). Scrape this paste out of the bowl and add to the potato-onion-egg mixture, blending well.
Heat 1/2 inch depth of oil in a skillet. Use about 2 rounded tablespoons of potato mixture for each pancake. Drop into skillet and flatten with spatula. Fry pancakes about ten minutes total, turning once. The pancakes should be golden brown.