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Life After Latkes (At Least, for Some)

December 10, 2009 By:
Louise Fiszer, JE Feature
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Confessions of a latke lover: There was a time that whenever we added a candle to the menorah during Chanukah, my secret yearning loomed large and lasciviously -- the desire to have hot, fresh, crisp latkes on my plate at the same time that everyone at the table has theirs.

Sometimes, I would imagine my aspiring latke consumers refusing their bounty unless I got mine first. Once I even hallucinated that everyone's appetite was sufficiently diminished so that all the crunchy-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside potato pancakes would all be mine. This is the stuff that dreams are made of!

Potato latkes are a delicious treat enjoyed during Chanukah -- the Festival of Lights. Everyone agrees that they are at their best when consumed fresh, as soon as they leave the pan. The latke cook, of course, doesn't have that luxury; usually, by the time he or she sits down, the latkes have become tepid and soggy.

My latke longings inspired the potato-latke wedges. It takes liberty with the traditional shape, but does not compromise the taste and texture, and everyone, including the cook, gets to eat crispy, hot latkes.

Begin the festive meal with a seasonal, nutritious vegetable soup that's perfect on a chilly evening. Accompany the crispy latkes with a colorful salad of Belgian endive and sweet oranges. Let guests help themselves to toppings of tart apple-pear sauce or sour cream for the latkes.

Finish with an ethereal, low-fat almond-ginger torte for the adults. And, of course, all kids love Chanukah cookies in the shapes of dreidels and menorahs; they especially like to help cut them out, decorate and bake them.

Late-Autumn Vegetable Soup

(Pareve)

2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 leek, white part only, thoroughly washed and thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1/2 small head green cabbage, shredded
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh dill
4 Tbsps. chopped fresh parsley
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 parsnip, peeled and sliced
3 cups diced and peeled winter squash (butternut, acorn, Delicata, Buttercup, etc.)
2 cups coarsely chopped broccoli
6 cups vegetable stock
1/4 lb. spinach linguine, broken into 2-inch lengths
salt and pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.

Cook the leek, fennel, mushrooms and cabbage until wilted, about 7 minutes.

Stir in the dill, parsley, sweet potato, parsnip, winter squash and stock, and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the broccoli and linguine; cook for another 10 minutes.

Taste for salt and pepper, and serve.

Serves 8.

Potato-Latke Wedges

(Pareve)

4 russet potatoes, about 11/2 pounds total weight
2 medium onions
3 eggs, lightly beaten
4 Tbsps. flour or matzah meal
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. salt
1/2 cup peanut or vegetable oil for frying

Peel and grate the potatoes using the large holes of a grater. (I like to use a food processor.)

Grate the onions in the same manner.

Place the potatoes in large strainer and press out as much liquid as possible.

In large bowl, combine the potatoes and onions with eggs, flour, salt and pepper. Let the mixture stand about 10 minutes.

Heat about 1/4 cup oil in two 12-inch skillets, preferably nonstick. When oil is hot, pour half the potato mixture into each skillet and smooth each surface with spatula.

Cook over medium heat about 8 minutes, pressing down with spatula every so often.

Slide each latke onto a large plate, invert back into skillet and cook for another 8 minutes.

Both sides should be browned and crispy. Cut each latke into 4 wedges.

Serve with apple-pear sauce and/or sour cream.

Serves 8.

Endive-and-Orange Salad

(Pareve)

2 heads Belgian endive, cored and cut into fine shreds
4 cups watercress leaves (about 1 large bunch)
2 oranges, peel and sectioned
1 small red onion, diced
1/2 cup imported black olives, halved and pitted
3 Tbsps. sherry or red-wine vinegar
2 Tbsps. walnut oil
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsps. finely chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine the endive, watercress, orange sections, onion and olives.

In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, walnut oil, olive oil and parsley together until well-blended.

Toss with the salad, and season with salt and pepper.

Serves 6 to 8.

Apple-Pear Sauce

(Pareve)

3 ripe Comice or Anjou pears, peeled, cored and quartered
3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and quartered
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar or to taste

Place all of the ingredients in a heavy saucepan.

Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the fruit is soft and starts to break down, about 13 minutes.

Uncover, and cook over medium-high heat until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.

Purée in a food mill or food processor.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about 2 cups.

Almond-Ginger Torte

(Pareve)

3 cups finely chopped almonds
11/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
10 eggs, separated
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
grated zest of 1 large orange
2 Tbsps. finely chopped candied ginger
powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°.

Oil or spray a 10-inch tube pan.

Combine the nuts with 1/2 cup of the sugar, flour, ground ginger and salt.

Beat the egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the remaining sugar until thick and pale, about 8 minutes.

Stir in the orange juice, zest and candied ginger. Fold the nut mixture into the yolk mixture with a spatula.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar. Fold the whites into the yolk batter and pour into the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

Let cool in pan, then invert onto serving plate.

Dust with powdered sugar.

Serves 12.

Louise Fiszer is a California cooking teacher and food writer. E-mail her at: [email protected].

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