Latkes, much like matzo balls, generally elicit strong opinions. While some harold “floaters” over “sinkers” in the matzo ball circles, latkes undergo at least the same amount of scrutiny when we raise the question, “shredded or solid?” While supporters of solid latkes question the authenticity of the shredded variety, citing too great a similarity to hash browns, I can very well say the same about the solid kind bearing a strong resemblance to a croquette. Which takes the goyish prize now?
Truth be told, there are very marked differences between croquettes, hash browns, and latkes, and according to some prominent food historians, the latke was probably the precursor to both. In a nutshell, the theory goes that travelling Jews were responsible for much of the food innovation we’ve experienced in Biblical times; influences we experience to this day. Jews and other sojourners at the time were responsible for popularizing “foreign” food. That is to say, they were largely responsible for introducing different kinds of cuisine they experienced during their travels to other peoples they visited along the way.
This exchange of cultural cuisine also influenced what we now know as Jewish/Israeli food today…although I suppose you’d never guess that if your only exposure to Jewish food is Eastern European Ashkenazi! :) These adaptations and changes occurred, of course, because of very necessary adaptations to accommodate a kosher diet, and what was available. It became advantageous to possess a large arsenal of herb and spice knowledge, as well as developing new techniques in order to create something edible and, hopefully, tasty in different terrain, climates, and landscapes.
The beauty of the whole thing, though, is our ability to remain distinctively unique, despite our borrowing of flavors and technique from other cultures. Latkes are distinctively latkes, not hash browns, and not croquettes. While we certainly should remember the miracle of the oil and Hashem’s delivery of victory over our oppressors this holiday season, we should also take pride in the fact that, no matter how isolated we feel, no matter how religious we are, we preserve our identity with each bite of latke. Because it’s not a hash brown, and it’s not a croquette. It, like we, are unique. Chanukah sameach. :)
And in the spirit of evolving food…
Try making some tandoori-style latkes by adding a few simple spices and ingredients!
For every pound of dry, shredded potatoes, add:
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 large onion, sauteed and slightly browned*
2 TBSP potato starch2 Tbsp tumeric
1 tsp corriander
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp chili powder (or to suit taste)
Salt and Pepper to suit taste
(these quantities are approximations)
Combine ingredients and fry in hot oil. Serve hot with a side of mango chutney. Enjoy!
*It’s a good idea to use sauteed onions in latkes in general. The sauteeing process not only unlocks some good oniony flavor, it also removes a lot of the water locked up inside the onions, which would otherwise lend too much moisture to your latkes, causing them not to crisp up.
~ Recipe submitted by Allaya Fleischer