A holiday without a diet: oil and potato patties
Is it the legacy of the Jews, or are the traces lost?
Open a cookbook of almost any ethnic cuisine, and you will easily find a recipe of patties made from grated potato. But for every people of the world it has its own name and its own ingredient features. For example, Lithuanians call the dish “zeppelins”, and put a meat filling in the dough, then fry and boil the mixture, just the way we do with kletzkis. For Germans, it's called “Kartoffelpufer”, in Romanian it's “tosinei” and so on.
And it’s not surprising, for where haven’t “our people” been? We also like to go everywhere “with our own”, and are always happy to receive guests, obeying the commandment of “Hospitality”. Leaving the Jewish home, our traditional dish entered the cuisine of other peoples. And good health to them!
A delicious symbol of Hanukkah
Latkes is a dish that has for centuries been part of the feast of Ashkenazi Jews. The main feature is that it is prepared in a large amount of sunflower oil. It is not the healthiest food, of course. But it's so delicious! At Hanukkah we use everything that can heighten the festive spirit. And in this sense, oil holds first place. It is not just the traditional symbol of the holiday, but also the occasion to celebrate the incredible event that happened to the Jewish people over 2,000 years ago.
Hanukkah is the festival of the “miracle of one pitcher of oil”. When the Second Temple was desecrated, and the Menorah, the main candelabra of Jerusalem, had to be lit to purify it, it was discovered that there was only one pitcher in the temple of “suitable” olive oil. This oil was only sufficient for one day, but the Almighty performed a miracle and the fire burnt for eight days. In memory of this event, to this day we light the Hanukkah light, and for a week we “drown” the food in oil, which was once the spiritual salvation of Judaism and the Jewish people.
Battle for precedence: draniki or latkes?
The first recipe for “draniki”, or flapjacks, is found in Jan Shittler, the author of a cookbook from 1839 (the nationality of the collector of recipes is not in question). Nevertheless, it does not discuss “latkes”, and this is rather evidence of the precedence of “draniki”...
But it is quite easy to trace the chain of sources: Jews remember their history and honor their ancestors for the centuries. Well-known signs of the precedence of “latkes” is the Book of Judith (Yegudit). It tells of a brave woman who saved the Jewish people from conquerors during the Khashmonai period: risking her life, she fed their Assyrian commander, Holofernes, with salty cheese. To quench his thirst, he drank an excessive amount of wine and fell asleep. Judith cut off his head and hung it on the central gates of the city. During the attack, the Assyrians saw the head of their leader and began to flee. Thanks to the wisdom of this Jewish woman, the Jewish people were saved, and the cheese that she used for the victory is still one of the symbols of Hanukkah. And the first Hanukkah latkes were not made from potatoes, but with shepherd's cheese and matzah.
But why potatoes?
Undoubtedly, 2,000 years ago the Jewish people did not know about this vegetable. And where people did know about it, they did not consider it fit for consumption. In Europe, the potato as a food product only appeared 1,500 years after the Jews had scattered all over the world.
But all this time, the Jews continued to make latkes, but without cheese. The reason is the laws of kashrut. For if before they were scattered, the Jews prepared it with olive oil, in Galut it became an unaffordable luxury. And in Europe a few centuries ago, it was almost impossible to find olive oil.
The enterprising Jews adapted to the nature of their habitat – they began to make patties with chicken or goose fat. A contradiction arose: Jews don't combine meat with dairy products! Thus, cheese vanished from the recipe, and instead of it cheaper and more available vegetables were used, which could be easily found in any region. After potatoes appeared in Europe, they became a classical ingredient of festive Hanukkah latkes. Over time, oil also returned to the recipe, but it was vegetable oil.
Potatoes – 1 kg
Eggs – 6
Matzah flour – 0.5 of a cup (challah or bread can also be used)
Onions – 2 (large)
Salt, pepper – to taste
Flour for coating
Finely grate peeled potatoes. Allow to stand for 10 minutes and press well, for this is the main difference between latkes and flapjacks! Beat the eggs, and add salt and pepper. Grate the onions into the potatoes and add the eggs. When everything is ready, add the chopped matzah and stir. Heat a frying pan and pour in vegetable oil to a depth of 0.5 cm. Form patties of the same height and coat them with flour. Fry on both sides on a medium heat until a golden crust forms.
Depending on the sort of table you are preparing the traditional latkes for (meat or dairy), choose a sauce. For a dairy meal, you can serve a creamy garlic sauce, or simply sour cream. If there will be meat on the table, use the experience of our ancestors, who served the crunchy latkes with goose crackling as well as meat.
Holy Hanukkah to you!