Whole Lotta Latkes

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As far as this writer is concerned, latkes, by whatever name, are welcome any time of year. But in the Jewish tradition, these designed-to-be-delectable potato pancakes are especially welcome during Hanukkah, December 1-9. You can of course make them yourself (we’ll talk about that later), but with two restaurant sources, Bohanan’s and Roaring Fork, vying for your attention, why not give them the twirl of a dreidl (a four-sided top especially used during Hannukah)? If we add in Schilo’s, which has long had a year-‘round potato pancake on the menu, and assume the top’s fourth side means make-them-yourself, then we have a nifty, and seasonal, game of chance. Or just pick whatever sounds most enticing and be done with it.

At Roaring Fork, the pancake, which will be served throughout the eight-day celebration, follows in the tradition of eating fried foods to commemorate the oil lamp that miraculously burned for eight days during the ritual purification and rededication of the temple in Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago. (The latkes tradition itself is younger—a mere 900 years old.) As is customary in many quarters, the pancakes will be accompanied by applesauce (sour cream and smoked salmon are also available toppings), and should nicely partner Roaring Fork’s salmon dishes, as just one example. A creamy, but not heavily oaked, chardonnay couldn’t hurt, either.

Bohanan’s is taking a somewhat different approach in which the latkes become the focus of a complete tasting paired with various vodkas. (Potato and potato, get it? Never mind that most modern vodkas are made from grains.) Without digging too deeply into the potato patch, it’s possible to have the latkes at lunch during Hannukah—vodka or not, up to you. But the truly committed might want to call the restaurant to arrange for the five-course marathon; it will set you back $65 (and you’ll have to get together nine other friends), but never has the humble potato been treated so reverently. Caraway, Gruyère, roasted beet purée, house-cured salmon, salmon roe, caviar, and fennel are just a few of the flavors that will be incorporated. Vodkas include Poland’s Chopin and Idaho’s Zodiac (yes, it is made from potatoes).

For the do-it-yourselfer, a variety of toppings, for latkes made into cocktail-sized portions, is featured in a New York Times article this week by Melissa Clark. Here are some of her suggestions: crème fraîche, black pepper and pear butter; smoked trout mousse made from whipped cream with horseradish, chives, pepper and flaked trout; gorgonzola and brandied figs (simmer chopped, dried figs in brandy, let sit for an hour, drain—saving the brandy, of course); pomegranate seeds sprinkled atop Greek yogurt whipped with a little honey.

Need a recipe for the latkes themselves? Sources abound, but let me suggest one from Leite’s Culinaria (www.leitesculinaria.com) that is designed to be made as a single cake to be cut into wedges. The recipe actually comes from Rozanne Gold’s “Radically Simple” cookbook. (Gold was an early pioneer in recipes pared down to a minimum number of ingredients.) Potatoes, onion, olive oil, salt and pepper: that’s it. Her secret is parboiling the potatoes before grating. You can supply your own vodka (Monopolowa is made from potatoes, is sensationally cheap, and is perfectly good) or serve with a strong, black tea.

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