This morning, under the news radar, Jonathan Pollard arrived in Israel. Accompanied by his wife Esther, he flew in a private jet (obviously donated for the cause) to Israel. Landing in early morning darkness, he was greeted by Prime Minister Netanyahu.
For anyone who has followed and sympathized with Pollard’s long journey, watching him walk down the steps of the plane, kiss the ground and receive his Israeli identity card from the Prime Minister, it was poignant. Despite the crime he committed, it seems to be common wisdom that he was singled out for extraordinary punishment far exceeding that of others convicted of similar crimes.
After serving close to 3 decades in American prisons, Pollard was then required under the terms of his parole to live an extremely limited life for five years in New York City.
But this is all past and he and his wife are now taking part in the uniquely 2020 ritual in which all arrivals to Israel must participate: quarantine.
Once this is all over and Jonathan settles into a more normal life, I hope that he will write a book where he shares his experiences. It will be interesting to read about his being arrested at the entrance to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC or his plea bargain which was not honored. However, I think it will be most interesting to read about how Jonathan dealt with his long prison sentence. How did he get through the daily grind in jail (what was the daily grind?)? Did he have relationships with other prisoners or the prison staff? How did he observe Shabbat and holidays? What kept him going? What was it like to walk of the prison gates a free man? What were his first observations from being in the open world for the first time in decades? There must be scores of small and great dramas, victories and defeats which Pollard experienced.
I think many await hearing from Mr. Pollard. Let’s hope he shares his experiences in writing.
Conversion is constantly in the Jewish news cycle. Does your book address the various controversies surrounding conversion to Judaism?
The current controversies are always about how people convert. My book is about what happens after people convert and become Jewish, which is an incredibly important issue.
The reason conversion is such a “hot button” topic today is because there is a huge sociological [and halachic] change taking place in our community where so many people are seeking to and actually converting to Judaism.
Modern Judaism is changing through conversion, just like 30 years ago the ba’al teshuva movement changed our community in very basic ways as so many Jews began practicing Orthodox Judaism.
We are being changed by righteous converts who are choosing to join our people. And many times we are not treating them correctly.
What is the key message of your book?
Although the focus on how to convert and the standards for conversion seems important, actually how we treat people who have already converted to Judaism in our community is much more important a measure of us as a Jewish community.
Why did you write this book?
For a few reasons. I was astonished to discover no one else had written this book in either English or Hebrew. Due to the increase in the number of sincere converts to Judaism, both in the US and Israel, this book is needed. Conversion is much more common now than ever before.
Another reason is because converts are the most admirable segment of our community. These are people who have a choice and they choose to be Jews.
Did anything surprise you as you wrote the book?
Yes. Besides the fact that no one else had done this, I saw the large variety of issues and the need for categorization. So I focused the book on what I found to be six basic underlying questions which exist when approaching the topic of conversions and converts. These are things like how a convert relates to their family of origin, the obligation all Jews have to love converts, issues that arise when dealing with marriage or converts holding positions of authority and more.
Do you think this book could have been published 150 years ago? 50 years ago?
In pre-modern times conversion was very rare and this book would not have been needed as much as now. It would still provide material to learn as interesting theory, but it would have been less practical.
Who did you write this book for?
There are a number of audiences for this book; intellectuals and academics. People who are considering conversion to Judaism as well as people who have already undergone conversion. An additional audience are the Rabbis and Rabbinic courts which carry out conversions.
Do you think the phenomenon of conversions to Judaism today is unique? How so? How does it differ from other countries?
I think that the total lack of secular stigma is the unique feature of our generation. Someone who converts to Judaism in the US can tell people at work about their conversion without losing their job or damaging their career.
How does conversion today differ from those of, say, 25 years ago? Or 50 years ago?
The growth of serious, observant Judaism has given rise to more serious converts and conversion. Conversion to Judaism is common and normal today and this is good.
Telling the life story of Rabbi Dov Cohen, To Rise Above begins in Seattle, WA in the early 1900’s and via train and ship takes readers to pre-state Palestine. As a young boy Dov lived in the idyllic (and rare) circumstances of a wealthy Orthodox Jewish family in Seattle. Fully dedicated to observance of Jewish law, the family was also able to take part fully in local life due to their financial success and broadmindedness.
But all was not well in paradise. Dov’s brother went off to NY to study in yeshiva and came back unmotivated and uninterested in continuing his Torah education. His observance level was not one of a young man excited about being an Orthodox Jew. Dov’s mother realized that the US offered nothing like the Torah education she wished for her sons. She then took the dramatic step of traveling with 13 year old Dov across the world to seek out a place in Palestine that would provide the education she wanted for Dov.
And this is when the journey through the history and Jewish life of pre-state Israel begins. It wasn’t easy to find a yeshiva for Dov. After false starts in Tel Aviv, Dov ends up learning in the Jewish holy city of Hevron (Hebron) at the Slabodka Yeshiva. Dov’s mother returns to the US and they meet again only after 10 years.
Slabodka was a flagship of the mussar movement dedicated to living at the highest standards of Jewish ethical behavior. It is fascinating to read about the experiences of a young American Jew living within the Jewish community of Hevron and pre-independence Israel of the 1920’s. Daily life is described showing the intensity of the yeshiva students and their everyday idealism as well as the difficulty of being a teenager so far from his family. The author doesn’t whitewash over various tensions which exist within the yeshiva. Readers will be hardpressed to find other books in English which offer such detailed insight into this flourishing Jewish community.
In painful detail, Dov describes the experiences of living through the Hevron massacre of 1929. The violent rioting by Arabs and murder of over 60 Jews could easily have been stopped by British police on the scene. Dov describes the incredible scenes of suffering as the British authorities do nothing to stop the Arab pogrom. This is a must read for anyone interested in Hevron and the events of 1929.
Dov relocates with his yeshiva (post-riot referred to as the Hevron Yeshiva) to Jerusalem in the wake of the riots. The dislocation and confusion Dov experiences would today be quickly labeled as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The book eventually reaches 1948 and Israeli independence. Dov serves as the first Rabbi of the Israeli Air Force which is fascinating because although he was part of the Haredi community, he saw his work as a mission to ensure that the new institutions of the nascent Jewish state were set up taking into account Jewish tradition to whatever extent possible.
We follow Dov Cohen through the development of Israel and his life. The end of the book contains a fascinating copy of notes that he kept on a daily basis documenting his efforts at self-improvement proving that he was truly a student of Slabodka who tried to live according to the ideals of mussar until the end of his life.
This book is a must-read for those interested in the history of the Jewish community of Hevron and pre-independence Israel as well as those stirred by mussar.
It is always exciting to read about the Shalem College (in articles such as this one in The Weekly Standard). I was brought on as the head of media relations at the Shalem Center (the precursor to the college) in the 90’s as it came onto the educational and intellectual scene. The dream was to start a university dedicated to the highest standards of intellectual inquiry while providing a real liberal arts education. The atmosphere was super dynamic and job descriptions changed or expanded as needed. I was eventually put in charge of setting up the recruitment of students for the new Shalem Fellowship program. Many of the fellows are now top academics and journalists in Israel today. Shalem gave me my start in book publicity when I worked with an amazing Tel Aviv book publicist on the Hebrew translation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Civil Disobedience, Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and other classics published by Shalem. The next mission was setting up distribution for Shalem books in Israel as well as growing the subscriber base to the Shalem journal (Azure in English and Tchelet in Hebrew). At one point I was told “go to NY and figure out how to distribute our journal so we don’t have to give it out for free”.
The rest is history as I learned all about the book industry in the US and Israel and have never looked back. The dream of the Shalem College has come to fruition and articles like the one mentioned above are evidence of how successful it already is. Shalem has done much to bring quality books to Hebrew readers and by setting up a liberal arts, “great books” college, it ensures these books are actually being read.
Whether I’m wearing my hat as a book shepherd or as publicist, I spend a lot of time talking to authors about the covers for their book. The importance of a book cover can’t be overestimated. Covers really are important. You know….the whole “judging a book by its cover”? It is true.
So while at one time I sometimes tried to save authors money by working with great graphics people with no experience in book cover design, I do not do this anymore. Why? Because someone who has designed numerous book covers has usually reached a tipping point where they simply “get it”. They know what will work and they don’t need direction. Sure we give plenty of feedback when needed but that is fundamentally different than practically having to explain everything I know about covers, sending examples of covers and needing to be overly involved in the process. They were great designers (otherwise I wouldn’t have hired them) but they were not familiar with creating book covers. Their fee may have been lower but when taking into account the time needed from our side, it wasn’t usually worth it.
When I read “How We Tried to Design Our Own Book Cover” I was excited. This article is by Jake Knapp, a designer who wrote a forthcoming business book called Sprint (which sounds fascinating, by the way). One of Jake’s opening lines is something I am likely to share often: “Last June, with a near-complete draft of our book in hand, we began thinking about the cover design. We’re a team of designers, so how hard could it be? (Spoiler alert: Turns out it is very, very hard.)” I had to smile as I read this story of book cover design gone wrong (and then right). I felt vindicated.
Jake – thanks for your honesty! I hope that sharing your experience will save authors a lot of time, money and frustration. Now I am waiting for an article about how important a good editor is to a book!
I’m excited to run my first book giveaway. Actually it isn’t my first. I have probably run hundreds of book giveaways on various websites, blogs and social media platforms, but I have not used my own site. So let’s get started……
Newly revised and updated, the Jewish Fact Finder by Yaffa Ganz is a classic which has been a treasure-house of basic Jewish information for decades. It contains information on everything Jewish that one might need. Feldheim describes the book has having everything “from Torah to Talmud to Temple; from prophets to plagues to prayers; seasons and cities; measurements and mountains; and lots more, designed to be available right at your fingertips”.
It’s an essential quick-reference guide and will be useful for students, young and old, and for their parents and teachers as well. To describe it in 2016 terms, it is like having Google available at all times (including when you can’t access the internet).
Click below and enter to win! The book will be shipped for the winner to USA addresses only (sorry).
As you may know by now, the Israeli Education ministry has “disqualified” the book “Gader Haya” (in English “Borderlife”) by Dorit Rabinyan because it describes a romantic relationship between a Jewish woman and a Palestinian man. I am sure the book’s publicist is ecstatic as every media outlet is talking about the book and reportedly Israeli bookstores are selling (and running out of) copies in record numbers.
The move is being described (for example here, here and here) in the way anyone involved in the decision ought to have been warned about (in advance!) by their PR people: a disastrous, closed minded move which is the antithesis of a democratic society.
While it can be understood educationally why Jewish schools in Israel (and elsewhere) might not want to use a book making intermarriage or assimilation somehow positive or more familiar. It is, after all, a fact that Jewish schools actually try to prevent assimilation. But, not wanting to “promote” assimilation is surely not being served by a decision which has turned out to be the best PR and sales move the author and publisher could have ever hoped for. (I always tell my clients to pray for a book ban. Seriously.)
A book that might have barely been used by educators is now likely a top choice. And the ban makes many (most?) people more sympathetic to the book, the author and the topic. Fiction can always make something difficult seem romantic and worthy. So the Education Ministry is probably not very pleased right now. Yet, there could have been another approach.
Here is what the Education Ministry should have done: produce the best resources (in print, video, anything & everything) to help educators and students discuss the book and the issues it raises (especially assimilation, intermarriage etc.). Don’t ban a book. It doesn’t work anyway. Engage with the book. Get people talking, angry, happy or frustrated. Provide quality, engaging sources about Jewish continuity, assimilation and other relevant topics. If these resources were available, they might have been used in collaboration with the book and could have helped young Israeli Jews and their teachers really grapple with the issues of assimilation, Jewish identity and more. Instead, they’ve helped the book become an even better seller than it already was. It is likely the ban will be lifted at some point and the book will be adopted by more schools than ever before – and the Education Ministry will have no input into the discussions held. Too bad.
I discovered Paula Shoyer through her Chocolate Chip Mandelbread. Rosh Hashana was approaching and mandelbread seemed, to me, to be the only dessert option on the horizon. Nothing would be complete without it. I asked around and someone shared Paula’s recipe with me. I recall having a few questions and Gil Marks z”l was kind enough to coach me. (Tragically, Gil passed away recently, but this mandelbread experience was a typical example of his friendly and helpful personality.)
When I met Paula at the first Kosher Bloggers Conference, I introduced myself so I could rave about her recipe to the source. We schmoozed, talked shop and discussed how we might work together one day. Paula is visiting Israel soon and I am excited to be working with her on the publicity for the trip and a special event with the spouse of the US ambassador in Israel, Ms. Julie Shapiro. Paula is on a constant book and food demo tour and has a new book coming out in 2 months (The New Passover Menu, Sterling Epicure) so I appreciate that she took the time to be part of 8 for 8!
Paula, besides growing up in the US, you have also lived abroad. What stands out for you about celebrating Chanukah in the US and in other countries? Any special food memories?
Chanukah in the US is about latkes and in other places it is about donuts. Even in Geneva, Switzerland, we got sufganiyot from the local kosher bakery. I will never forget spending Chanukah in the hospital in the US in 1999 when I was on bed rest waiting for my twins to be born. I lit candles in my room every night and prayed that my babies would be healthy. One was 7 pounds at birth- pretty much our own Chanukah miracle. We have often had combined chanukah/birthday parties for the boys.
How has your Chanukah changed since you became a chef and author?
Before I was a chef, Chanukah was just about latkes, As a chef, the world of possibilities has opened up to me. I make different flavors of latkes and apple sauce, experiment with different flavors of dough and fillings for donuts and even developed desserts baked with olive oil.
How does your family celebrate Chanukah?
We love to sing so we make sure we all light candles together every night. We get together with friends and family, if possible. My mother buys great gifts for the kids that they wear right away, like snuggies and bathrobes.
What are you eating for Chanukah this year?
Every year we try something new. I am working on chocolate flavored funnel cake and cannoli donuts this year.
What are the top questions people ask you about baking for Chanukah? For other holidays?
People are afraid of yeast doughs and afraid of frying so I get a lot of questions. I get emails with questions up to an hour before every major Jewish holiday. They are usually about ingredients or equipment people do not have. But sometimes people change my recipes and write to ask me why the dessert does not taste good.
What is one dish you must eat during Chanukah no matter what? Potato latkes fresh out of the frying pan.
Finally: Latkes or sufganiot?
Latkes – I am surrounded by sugar all day every day and I just crave salty food.
What recipe are you sharing with us?
My Almond and Olive Oil Cake. It is perfect fit for Chanukah with the olive oil, yet not the usual dessert. Enjoy!
ALMOND AND OLIVE OIL CAKE
Serves 8 to 12
The use of olive oil in cakes dates back farther than the Chanukah story itself. Olive oil was used in baked offerings at the Temple. This is a super easy teatime cake that reminds me of simple cakes I have eaten in Italy. If you are feeling decadent, serve this with whipped cream.
¾ cup (90g) sliced almonds (with or without skins)
1 cup (200g) sugar
3 large eggs
½ cup (120ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
½ cup (60g) ground almonds
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon orange zest (from one orange)
spray oil containing flour
PREHEAT OVEN to 350°F (180°C). Trace an 8-inch (20-cm) round pan on parchment paper and cut it out with scissors. Grease and flour the pan, press in the parchment circle; and grease and flour the top of the parchment and sides of the pan. Sprinkle and spread the sliced almonds on the bottom of the pan to cover it.
IN A MEDIUM BOWL, beat the sugar, eggs, and olive oil for about one minute at medium speed until creamy. Add the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, salt, almond extract, and orange zest and beat until combined. Pour the mixture over the sliced nuts. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
LET THE CAKE COOL in the pan for 10 minutes and then run a knife around the sides. Turn the cake onto a wire rack and let it cool. Serve the cake almond side up. Store it covered at room temperature for up to four days or freeze for up to three months.
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum has just published a new book called The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel (Menorah-Books). The Torah singles out seven fruits (olives, dates and much more!) which grow in Israel for special mention. These foods thus have a special status in Jewish law and tradition. and Chana Bracha has created a guide which focuses on these specific species in a big way. Yes, it is a a cookbook, but it also is filled with nutritional and spiritual information about all the fruits and recipes. Rebbetzin Siegelbaum has gathered into one book what seems to be anything that can be learned about each of these fruits. The book also includes art and photographs which make the book look and feel more like a treasury of information rather than “only” a cookbook. Rebbetzin Siegelbaum is a super busy educator, director of a well known women’s seminary (B’erot Bat Ayin) and currently planning a speaking tour to the USA as well as preparing for family visits from Denmark so I appreciate that she made time to participate in 8 for 8 in honor of Chanukah 2014 as we meet a different cookbook author each day of the holiday.
What stands out for you about celebrating Chanukah as you grew up? Any special food memories?
I grew up in Denmark in a very assimilated home, but I do remember the Chanukah candles that we lit that stands out in my mind. We definitely didn’t have sufganiot, but we did have something like wafers that we made on a special wafer pan, they were like pancakes but they weren’t just for Chanukah. Perhaps we did have latkes with apple sauce and of course I especially liked the applesauce.
How has your Chanukah changed since you moved to Israel?
Chanukah has become much more meaningful since moving to Israel and becoming Torah observant. The belief in miracles and in how Hashem runs the world is a central part of my life now. However, the light of Chanukah in exile, in the dark Denmark was special because it was a light within a darker darkness, the darkness of assimilation. It was the light the kept the Jewish flame alive within all the darkness of the values of the Western world which are often so foreign or opposed to Jewish values.
What do you do during Chanukah to create a memorable holiday atmosphere for your family?
I bought my husband a very special Chanukiah (menorah), which we light at the entrance of our home with real olive oil.
The olive tree, which is the first tree recorded after the destruction of the flood, is the fruit of redemption. Its foliage is evergreen and its oil lights eternally, even during exile through the holy menorah of Chanukah. The bitterness of the olive alludes to a higher realm beyond what can be revealed as sweet in this world. When Hashem created Original Light, He saw that it was too good to be revealed for the people of this world. Therefore, He hid it away for the righteous in the World to Come. We can get a glimpse of this hidden light (Ohr Haganuz) every year on Chanukah, when we light the Chanukiah, the Chanukah lamp. After the destruction of both Temples, only the Chanukah lights, representing the flames of olive oil burning in the holy Menorah, accompany us throughout our spiritual darkness and light the way to redemption.
Are you eating different foods for Chanukah now than you did in the past? What are they?
I make latkes for my family but I minimize eating them myself as fried food is not so healthy. I also make a healthier version of the latkes by baking them rather than frying. I like to include other vegetables in the latkes such as zucchini, and carrots. We also eat milk products on Chanukah to commemorate Yehudit, the heroine of the Chanukah Story who fed Holofernes the general of the king of Assyrian milk before killing him and thus causing the victory for the Jews.
What are the top food questions people ask you about for Chanukah? For other holidays?
People ask me how to stay healthy during Chanukah and I tell them about sugarless whole-wheat sufganiot with cream of dates, and baked sweet-potato latkes. In my book I shared my recipes for such desserts. The recipes are not typical Jewish foods recipes or holiday recipes. Rather, my style of cooking is more natural and nutritious. The desserts are sugarless and I include many salads and try to avoid fried food.
Latkes or sufganiot?
None of the above, thank you!
What is one dish you must eat during Chanukah no matter what?
Quinoa with olive oil and za’atar or natural sea salt! That’s one of my favorite foods during the week and on Chanukah I may splurge more on the olive oil.
Which recipe would you like to share with us for Chanukah?
I’d like to share a simple dip which is based on olive oil and is something which can be used very often. After the recipe, I’ll share an excerpt from The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel which speaks about olive oil, the Temple and Chanukah.
OLIVE OIL WITH ZA’ATAR (HYSSOP MIXTURE)
An easy dip to complement your bread and salads
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup za’atar mixture
Mix the olive oil and za’atar mixture well with a spoon and pour into
a nice glass jar, which you can keep on your dinner table, ready to
sprinkle over your whole wheat bread, grains and vegetables.
Instead of serving butter, fill a small condiment dish with extra virgin
olive oil and za’atar for use on grains, bread and potatoes, or drizzle
It is interesting to note that the biblical lamp oil – the olive oil used for the Menorah in the Temple – had to be of the highest quality, even superior to today’s extra virgin olive oil. The Torah instructs the children of Israel “to bring clear olive oil beaten for light, to set up the lamp continually.” Rashi explains the word כּתִָית /katit – ‘beaten’ (used today to refer to virgin olive oil) as follows: “He pounds the olives in a mortar, but must not grind them in a mill, so that there may be no sediment.” He further explains the continued processing of olive oil: “After he has thus extracted the first drop of oil, he may bring the olives into the mill and grind them. The second oil [obtained by grinding] is unfit for use in the candelabrum but is permissible for meal offerings…” For this reason, even today, when lighting the Chanukiah, it is recommended to use the very best olive oil. Using the highest quality olive oil for the lights of Chanukah is a segulah (spiritual remedy) for begetting righteous children, as it states, “…your children [shall be] like olive plants round about your table.”Rabbanit Yamima Mizrachi further explains that although it is permissible to use any kind of oil for the Chanukah candelabra, the Chanukiah that we have today is in commemoration of the Menorah in the Temple, which used only the purest olive oil. Therefore, if we want all the spiritual remedies of the Menorah in the Temple – righteous children, good memory, wisdom, good vision, spiritual and physical health, it is important to use the very best quality olive oil for the Chanukah lights.
A recent article claimed that Jews who keep kosher have all become “foodies”. If there is one person to credit for kicking off this phenomenon, it is probably Levana. She brought upscale kosher dining to NY when the stereotype and expectation of kosher food was that it was deli food. And while there is nothing wrong with great deli, Levana showed everyone that there is much more to kosher food than ethnic food. Here restaurant (called, surprise, Levana) was a game changer for NY kosher restaurants. Today there are many fine kosher restaurants in NY, Levana set the standard. Open for decades, serving food people loved and looked forward to, Levana introduced many to new foods, warm hospitality and higher standards.
Since then, Levana has been very prolific and published a number of critically acclaimed cookbooks as well as speaking, doing food demos and educating widely about how delicious recipes can also be healthy and relatively simple to prepare. She is a woman with a mission and quite busy, so I am super pleased that Levana is taking part in the 8 for 8 celebration of Chanukah here on my blog!
Levana, do you have memories of celebrating Chanukah in Morocco? What are some highlights? Any special food related memories?
To be frank, growing up in Morocco, Chanukah was absolutely no big deal in terms of social gatherings. We made a much greater deal of Tu BiShvat and Purim, they were huge bashes. On Chanukkah, in each house, everyone made their favorite fried treat, just one night. My mom made the Arabic donuts, Sfenj. But that was about it, beside Chanukah lighting every night, of course.
What do you do to create a special holiday atmosphere for your family during Chanukah?
Seriously: Lots of Latkas! Homemade a must!
How has your Chanukah celebration changed over the years?
I have happily adopted my husband’s minhagim (customs), which include making a much greater deal of celebrating Chanukah than I ever did in the past. Lots of Latkas (not just potato Latkas), donuts, kids presents, menorah lighting at home and in public places. My son Yakov and his wife Elisheva are Chabad Shluchim in Washington Heights, which means menorah lighting in one of the Washington Heights Parks, a kids Chanukah party etc. It’s always a wonderful time to put family and friends together, and do silly stuff. We need all the fun we can get! What was it like to be a restaurant owner during Chanukah?
It meant getting ready for more family reservations. It also meant always including Latkas on the menu to go with dinner, and even whole Chanukah parties with fun menus including Latkas and fritters, both savory and sweet.
Latkes or sufganiot?
I’m going with Latkas!
What are the things you must eat or do during Chanukah, no matter what?
I must get all my kids and grandkids together one of the Chanukkah nights, make lots of Latkas, and a homemade apple sauce, and watch it get all devoured. Give out gifts to everyone big and small. Loving Bubbie, loving Zaidie, what do you expect?
Will you please share a few Chanukah recipes with us?
Happy to share! I am going to share my latka recipe plus my thoughts of “fear of frying therapy” (which you can also find on my blog).
Latkas from Levana:
Ingredients: Makes 24 latkas.
vegetable oil for frying
1 cup flour, any flour, including gluten-free
1 medium onion, grated in a food processor
salt and pepper to taste
8 large Idaho or russet potatoes, peeled
Heat 1/3 inch oil in a heavy frying pan until very hot. While the oil is heating, place the flour, eggs, onion, salt and pepper, and nutmeg in a bowl, and mix thoroughly. Quickly grate the potatoes in a food processor, and immediately stir them into the batter, making sure not to squeeze so as not to extract unwanted extra moisture. Work very quickly so they do not have time to get discolored. Form small patties, and lower them into the hot oil, or drop the batter by heaping tablespoons. Fry until golden, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove and drain on paper towels. Serve with applesauce (try my homemade applesauce: nothing to it, and it’s wonderful!), or plain yogurt.
Vegetable latkes: Replace the potatoes with a mixture of zucchini, carrots and parsnips. Add seasonings of your choice such as oregano, minced fresh garlic and basil.
Sweet potato latkes: Substitute sweet potatoes for the regular potatoes, and add brown sugar, cinnamon, curry and ginger to taste. Try serving them with my Hot Pepper Jelly!
Potato Kugel: That’s right: What else is it but a giant latka? Add 1/3 cup of vegetable oil to the potato latka batter. Pour the batter into a greased loaf or square pan, and bake uncovered in a preheated 375*F oven for one hour or until the top is golden brown.
I rarely fry anything, but there is no Chanukkah without Frying! In my catering career and for my friends and family at home, I have made thousands upon thousands of them and always watch them disappear at a flatteringly alarming rate. There is no doubt about it: latkas are a heavenly treat, and once we enter a house where the glorious fragrance of latkas frying wafts through the kitchen, even a very spartan dieter (whom I have yet to meet) will sheepishly watch his or her noble resolution not to “get near it” turn to dust.
You may have guessed it: I have nothing nice to say about frying. Getting burned long ago while fishing out a schnitzel from the frying pan, which eluded me and defiantly jumped back into the pan splattering my hand, turning it into a human dumpling for days and leaving its ugly scar for many months, didn’t help endear this method of cooking to me. But my love for latkas has not suffered at all, thank you.
Frying (stir-frying does not fall into this category, as it requires very little oil and minimal cooking) is the nemesis of every health-conscious cook, this one included. However, fried foods are irresistibly delicious. I am happy to provide a few frying tips and guidelines for making occasional treats efficiently and safely: consider the following frying tips a mini crash course on conquering the fear of frying! These frying tips apply not only to latkas (any latkas, savory and sweet) but anything you might be frying (shnitzels, fish fillets, etc…)
– Keep it dry. Too much moisture will steam food instead of frying it, yielding soggy results. Be sure to dry whatever you are frying thoroughly with paper towels.
– Keep it thick. With a firm (not runny) batter, you will be able to form thicker patties, which will absorb much less oil than thinner ones. The ouside will be crisp and the center will be tender yet cooked through.
– Keep it hot. Less-than-hot oil will seep into your food, making it inedibly greasy. If you are adding oil to your pan while frying, chances are your oil was not hot enough to begin with. When your oil is good and hot, you will need to add very little if any to finish frying an entire batch of food. How hot is hot enough? Drop a smidgen of batter into the oil. If it sizzles and rises to the surface, the oil is hot and ready for frying.
– Keep it steady. Do not crowd the pan. First of all, you will make handling the food more difficult. Also, crowding will bring down the temperature of the oil. Adding what you are frying at steady intervals ensures that the oil has time to return to the desired temperature.
– Keep it lean. I have my mother to thank for this advice. Rather than using spatulas or slotted spoons, work with two forks when frying. Lift each fried item with a fork on each side, and hold it vertically for a second or two over the frying pan: You will be surprised by how much oil drips off it. Immediately place the items on a plate lined with several layers of paper towels, which will absorb any remaining unwanted grease.
– Keep it white. This applies only to potato dishes. Peeled potatoes will oxidate when exposed to air and turn an unappealing gray color. So when making latkes (or a potato kugel), get everything ready and peel and grate the potatoes last, adding them immediately to the otherwise finished batter.
– Keep it fresh and hot. A word about freezing and reheating. If you are entertaining a large group, it won’t be enormous fun spending the afternoon frying while everyone is having a good time. If you must fry in advance, follow all the above guidelines, but fry each item until it is ninety percent cooked through, no more. Store it in a shallow pan in one layer. You can also place the latkas in the pan vertically, like a deck of cards; you will be able to fit quite a few in a pan in this position (again, one layer). Cover tightly. Refrigerate or freeze, depending on how long in advance you are preparing the dish. Reheat uncovered, at about 350*F, for fifteen to twenty minutes if it was frozen, until golden and crisp.