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Not your grandma's latkes this Hanukkah

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Monday, 30 November 2009
List of viewable recipes from "Cooking Jewish" by Judy Bart Kancigor

Written by Judy Bart Kancigor

Photography: Jon Edwards. Food styling: Food Fanatics
Call it boredom. Maybe it was the 40-year itch, but I had been making the same Hanukkah potato latkes for decades. (Not that there's anything wrong with them. Several years ago, in reviewing my first cookbook "Melting Pot Memories," Food Editor Cathy Thomas of The Orange County Register called them "crispy-brown snowflakes" and "lacy, almost-crunchy wonders"…but I don't like to brag.)

One Hanukkah about five years ago, however, I was itching for something new, and like the song about love, I seemed to be lookin' for latkes in all the wrong places, because daring latke diversions started popping up where I least expected them, and they all seemed to say, "Fry me!" "No, me!"

For Hanukkah it's all about the oil. When Judah Maccabee and his tiny army defeated the Syrian-Greeks, they found only a tiny flask of oil with which to purify the desecrated Temple. Miraculously, it burned for eight days, setting off a frying frenzy that has lasted for centuries.

But who says traditional potato latkes are the only fritter fit to fry, I reasoned. My new favorite, oh-so-untraditional latke came from an unusual source, a novel!

In Sharon Boorstin's irresistible romp, "Cookin' For Love" (iUniverse) - chick-lit for the 49-year-old-plus set…with recipes, of course - Miriam, a married Jewish cookbook author, fantasizes about food while her divorced friend, Kate, fantasizes about an old flame. When Kate Googles her former lover (married yet!) and he invites her for a rendezvous in Muslim Malaysia, she begs Miriam to come along.

Miriam's thoughts seldom stray from food - a bikini wax reminds her of Grandma Estelle plucking a chicken - and when she awakens from a dream about Grandma's latkes to find her cleaver-toting captor frying curried onions, it's an "aha" moment of the kitchen kind. Cashews! Ginger! This is a latke with pizzazz!

In the intervening years I have played with the recipe, much to my family's delight, every permutation prompting passionate debate between the adventure-lovers and die-hard traditionalists. I offer here my final version. I like to serve it with a minty cucumber yogurt dip called cacik (pronounced jah-jik). Another interesting diversion off the well-trodden sour cream road.

The cacik recipe comes from my cousin Phyllis Epstein, who received it from Guner Zubi, the Turkish-born wife of a former Libyan diplomat with the United Nations. Phyllis worked for many years at the U.N. as a member of the Hospitality Committee under the Office of Protocol, which assists in helping our foreign friends assimilate into our culture and country. (In our family we like to say that she is the cousin in charge of world peace.)

Although Turkish cooks think of cacik as a salad, they also serve it as a cold, summer soup in a frosted bowl with an ice cube or two. Salting and draining the cucumbers prevents them from becoming watery in the finished dish. The toasted cumin seeds, while hardly authentic, are my own addition, adding another layer of flavor and crunch.

Phyllis's husband Peter has tried through the years to duplicate his mother's delicious German breakfast specialty, her apple-cinnamon pancakes. He finally nailed the recipe, and when I tried them, I thought, who's talking breakfast? Hello! These are apple latkes to me! Peter prefers firm, tart apples such as Granny Smith for this dish. As with all latkes, be sure to get the oil really hot and fry them quickly on each side so they don't get soggy.

Image Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of  Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family (Workman) and can be found on the web at   

Available at

Cookin' for Love Malaysian Latkes

From "Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family" by Judy Bart Kancigor, (Workman, 2007)

  • 1/2 cup chopped cashews or peanuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped mint or flat-leaf parsley or a combination
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped sweet red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped jalapeno pepper (veins and seeds removed)
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large baking potatoes (12 ounces each), peeled and cut into wedges
  • 1 medium onion (6 ounces), coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Vegetable oil for frying

1. Combine the nuts, mint, peppers, ginger, salt, curry powder and eggs in a large bowl.

2. In a food processor with the shredding disk attached, shred the potatoes and onions together and drain well in several changes of ink-free paper towels. Squeeze to release as much liquid as possible. Add the potatoes and onions to the egg mixture and combine well. Stir in the flour.

3. In a large, heavy skillet, heat enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan on medium-high heat. When the oil is quite hot but not smoking, add a scant 1/4 cup batter per latke and flatten with a fork. Fry only as many patties as will fit without crowding. Cook on one side until crisp and brown, about 2-3 minutes. Turn over and repeat. Remove the patties to paper towels to absorb excess oil. Serve with yogurt mixed with chopped cucumbers and salt and cumin seeds to taste.

Makes 24 latkes

Note: To taste the potato mixture (or any mixture containing raw eggs), microwave a teaspoon or two until cooked through, 10 seconds or so, depending on size and strength of the microwave.

(Cacik) Minty Cucumber Yogurt Dip

From "Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family" by Judy Bart Kancigor, (Workman, 2007)

  • 1 English (hothouse) cucumber
  • Kosher (coarse) salt
  • 2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons crushed garlic
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons crushed dried mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds

1. Grate the cucumber coarsely into a colander. Sprinkle generously with salt, and allow to stand for 15 to 20 minutes. Then rinse off the salt and let drain.

2. Combine the yogurt, garlic, olive oil, dried mint, cumin seeds, and salt to taste in a bowl, and whisk until smooth and creamy.

3.  Pat the cucumbers dry, and combine them with the yogurt mixture. Taste and adjust the salt. Cover, and chill for at least 1 hour.  

Trude's German Apple-Cinnamon Pancakes

From "Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family" by Judy Bart Kancigor, (Workman, 2007)

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher (coarse) salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups chopped peeled tart apples (about 6 medium-size apples; see Note)
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • Cinnamon-sugar, for garnish

1. Beat the eggs with an electric mixer on high speed until light and lemon-colored, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-high and blend in the sugar, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, and vanilla. Beat in the orange juice. Then beat in the flour until blended. Stir in the apples.

2. Pour oil to a depth of about 1/2 inch in a large skillet, and heat it over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Drop the batter, about 2 tablespoons at a time, into the hot oil. Fry until golden, about 2 minutes for the first side, 1 minute for the second side. Do not crowd the skillet, and be sure the oil is very hot when you add the batter so the pancakes don't get soggy.

3. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar over the pancakes and serve immediately, or keep them warm in a preheated 200°F oven for up to 15 minutes.

Makes 24

Note:  Peter likes to slice the apples thin and then chop them.

Disclosure: Samples of products discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or manufacturers.


Last Updated ( Friday, 04 December 2009 )
Suddenly It Feels Like Fry-day
peggy (Author) 2009-11-30 12:17:06

Judy, your articles always leave me with a smile on my face and a serious hunger--thanks for more inspiration! And congratulations...this morning your book was #35 on amazon's list of top-selling cookbooks. Best wishes for a happy Hanukkah.
Thanks Peggy!
Judy BK (Registered) 2009-12-01 09:13:57

One would think after Thanksgiving we'd never want another bite, but Hanukkah is early this year (you know what they say, Jewish holidays are either early or late - they're never on time) so my grandma's frying pan is gearing up for lots of action. Happy Holidays to you too!!
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