Potato pancakes and applesauce
Chanukah begins at dusk Friday, as our Jewish friends and neighbors begin their eight-day winter holiday, the "Festival of Lights."
This joyous festival recalls the heroic rebellion of Judah Maccabee and his brothers in ancient Jerusalem some 2,300 years ago, who led a fight to reclaim their Temple from Syrian oppressors who had filled it with pagan symbols.
According to the traditional Chanukah story, when it came time for Judah and his followers to re-kindle the temple's eternal light - the N'er Tamid - they found that they had only enough oil to last a single day. But a miracle occurred, and the tiny amount of oil kept the lamp alight for eight full days.
The miracle of the oil is remembered in the menorah, an eight-branched candlestick ... and in hearty holiday feasts that invariably feature a dish or two cooked in oil. Latkes, for instance, also known as potato pancakes.
I have to confess that I don't know a latke from a latte. But potato pancakes I know; and with the help of culinary advice from Jewish friends, I put together a batch last night that I hope would grace anybody's table, regardless of your family tradition.
In both Jewish and German custom, potato pancakes are often served with applesauce, and as a holiday bonus, I'm also including today a quick, easy and delicious recipe for an old-fashioned version contributed by my wife, who's a pretty good hand in the kitchen herself.
INGREDIENTS: (Makes about 16 small pancakes)
1/2 large onion
1. Grate the onion fine, using the side of a box-type grater with the larger round holes. Crack the egg into a small bowl and whip it lightly with a fork.
2. Grate the potatoes into shreds. Wrap them in a large cloth napkin or dish towel, squeeze out and discard as much liquid as possible. (Some of the potato shreds will turn reddish-brown from exposure to air. Don't worry about it. The pancakes will look fine.)
3. OPTIONAL STEP: As you grate, put the shreds into a large strainer over a bowl to capture the liquid that drains off. Allow it to settle for a few moments, then carefully pour off the thin liquid, reserving the creamy white potato starch that settles to the bottom.
4. In a large bowl, stir together the potato shreds, the grated onion, and either the potato starch from the previous step or, if you skip that step, the 1 tablespoon of flour. Stir in the egg, and add salt to taste.
5. Put a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and put in a small amount of oil, butter or other cooking fat. (For traditional latkes, use vegetable oil. For German-style potato pancakes, oil or butter is OK, or for additional flavor, chicken, duck or goose fat.)
6. When the fat is sizzling, drop in tablespoons of the potato batter, flattening them into thin rounds with the back of the spoon. Cook until browned on one side, then flip carefully and cook on the other. It shouldn't take more than five minutes in all to cook them through. Put the pancakes on a serving plate and keep them in a warm oven while you make the next batch - this recipe makes about three batches of five or six pancakes in a large skillet, maybe four batches if your skillet is smaller.Mary's applesauce
2 or 3 tart cooking apples
1. Start with good, tart cooking apples. Northern Spy apples are outstanding, but difficult to find. Winesaps work well because their red skins give the sauce a nice rosy color. Or use the ubiquitous Granny Smith. Wash and quarter the apples but leave the skins on.
2. Put the quartered apples in a saucepan and add a little water. Don't use too much, just enough to come up about 1 inch. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce flame to low. Simmer, covered, for 15 or 20 minutes, checking occasionally. When they have become very soft, falling apart, mash them vigorously (a potato masher works well for this) until the skins fall off and they become a sauce.
3. Add sugar and cinnamon to taste (the amounts given will make a tart, not-too-sweet sauce with a good presence of cinnamon). Leave on very low heat for a few moments more, then turn off heat and let stand for a couple of hours to let the flavors blend, stirring occasionally.
4. You can pick out and discard the apple skins, if you're finicky, or leave them in for texture and fiber. Serve and eat, with potato pancakes or hot buttered toast or all by itself!
WINE MATCH: If you're serving the pancakes as a side dish, then you'll want to choose a wine to go with the main course. To match the pancakes and applesauce combination, though (and with a salad, a big platter of potato pancakes and applesauce does make a fine meatless dinner), the choice is obvious: Riesling, dry or just off-dry. I'll report on a couple of interesting examples from the U.S. in tomorrow's 30 Second Wine Advisor.
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