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Tasty tweaks to Hanukkah tradition

One chef's family preparation shows that tradition needn't be rigid; that's why each year their holiday latkes add something new to the fried and true.

Published December 21, 2005

[AP photo:]
Chef Jeff Nathan spoons topping onto Apple Latkes, a Hanukkah dessert he's prepared at Abigael's at the Museum, the cafe-restaurant in the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

It was the first afternoon of Hanukkah last year and super-chef Jeff Nathan had assembled his wife, Alison, his son, Chad, and his daughter, Jaclyn, in the kitchen for the annual latke cook-off.

Nathan naturally assumed the role of drill sergeant.

"So, who wants to grate the potatoes?" Nathan barked.

"Shot not," Chad, 17, and Jaclyn, 14, shouted in unison.

The teenage slang for "No, way," "No thank you!" "Not us!" raced through the kitchen faster than the speed of sound.

Having gotten out of his least favorite chore, Chad teased, "Sorry, Mom, you'd better get out the grater."

"That's okay," Alison gloated; at least she wouldn't be doing the dishes.

Chad tried to be amiable. "Maybe Dad will be nice and do them." The author and chef-owner of Abigael's restaurant and chef-operator of Abigael's Cafe at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, chortled. "Good try, Chad, but I have to oversee this operation."

Welcome to Jeff Nathan's Livingston, N.J., kitchen, where mom, dad and the kids role-modeled cooperative culinary ventures for dad's book, Jeff Nathan's Family Suppers: More Than 125 Simple Kosher Recipes, published by Clarkson Potter in September. The Nathan family loves cooking together for the Jewish holidays and especially Hanukkah, which begins at sundown Dec. 25.

"Every year our family divvies up who hosts the Jewish holidays," said Alison. "For some reason we always get Hanukkah. But it's our favorite, so it's okay with us."

Every Hanukkah the Nathan family menu changes slightly. But this year both children are old enough to cook and tell their parents what they want or don't want in the latkes. No onions or mushrooms for Chad, who at least comes up with alternatives.

"I'm in charge of tasting everything," said Jaclyn. "If something isn't right, I try to figure out what will make it better. Mom doesn't like things too spicy. My dad and I like things really hot, so I've gotten very creative."

The Nathans love trying new latke recipes. This year, they'll make apple latkes, which taste more like fritters, and the purple potato latke that Chad invented and named Purple Potato Presents because you get the gift of its brilliant color when you bite into it.

"We divide the chores," the creative kosher chef said. "There's grating the potatoes, breaking the eggs, and frying the latkes. Everybody wants to break; nobody wants to grate."

When they get ready to cook, Jeff makes four copies of the recipes and tapes them on the cabinets at eye level. That way if they want to write on them - Jackie always crosses off fennel, Chad loves fennel but crosses off onions - at least they're not marking up the cookbook or getting food all over it.

Their banter is all in good fun. Actually, Chad is considering following in Dad's footsteps and has checked out the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, N.Y., and the Rutgers University food sciences major. Jaclyn is more interested in design, and now, at least, thinks she'd like to be an interior designer, so she's in charge of setting up the traditional Hanukkah table.

"It's the special place where we light the menorah and pile our gifts, but it's also filled with pictures of us when we were younger and special crafts we made over the years," Jackie said. "Mom saved all our stuff, from nursery school to Hebrew school, all the menorahs and decorations and novelties. When we look at them all displayed, it brings up memories of how much fun we had when we were younger. Our friends like looking at it too."

Jackie will get out the rest of the family decorations, including the two pillows that traditionally adorn the couch, one with a girl and boy snowman, the other with a picture of a menorah with Velcro flames. "Every night I add one more."

The teenagers enthusiastically interrupted each other, happily recalling Hanukkahs past as they painstakingly prepare for Hanukkah present.

They laughed at the way their dad playfully wraps sunflower seeds for their mom and Gatorade for his son, then placed them under the menorah along with the "serious" stuff to make sure they'll all have enough presents.

Chad talked about inviting over his friend Louis, who is not Jewish, but always brings him a Hanukkah gift. They enjoy celebrating each other's holidays.

"Jackie and I both want to light the menorah," said Chad. "So we take turns or fight over it. That's the opposite of shot not."

- Beverly Levitt is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

Apple Latkes With Spiced Sour Cream

1 8-ounce container sour cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or more to taste


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

3/4 cup water

2 firm apples, such as Golden Delicious, Fuji, or Granny Smith, unpeeled

1/2 cup canola oil, as needed

Confectioner's sugar, for sprinkling

To make the Spiced Sour Cream, stir the sour cream, vanilla and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Set aside at room temperature while making the latkes so mixture loses its chill.

For batter, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and allspice in a medium bowl. Whisk in the water until barely smooth. Core apples and cut into 1/4-inch dice. Immediately fold the diced apples into the batter.

Line a baking sheet with a double thickness of paper towels. Heat the oil over high heat until it begins to shimmer.

Reduce the heat to medium. Working in batches, using about 1/3 cup for each latke, pour the batter into the skillet.

Cook until the underside is golden brown, about 11/2 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed so latkes don't burn. Turn and cook the other side. Transfer to the paper towels to drain briefly.

It is best to serve each batch immediately after draining. If you wish, use two skillets to keep them coming quickly.

Sprinkle the latkes with confectioner's sugar.

Serve at once with the sour cream passed on the side.

Makes 4 hearty servings.

Source - "Jeff Nathan's Family Suppers" by Jeff Nathan (Clarkson Potter, 2005).

Purple Potato Presents With Black Olive and Tomato Relish

Potato pancakes:

8 Peruvian purple potatoes, peeled (about 2 pounds)

2 large eggs, beaten

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 teaspoons lemon zest

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Flour, for dredging

3 eggs, beaten

2 cups plain panko, as needed (see note)

Olive oil, for frying

Black Olive and Tomato Relish:

1 cup pitted Calamata olives, coarsely chopped

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as rosemary, parsley, thyme, basil and oregano

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped roasted garlic

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Boil potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain, then put through a food mill, or beat in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add eggs, flour and seasonings. Mix well. When cool enough to handle, shape into thick patties about 2-inches in diameter and 1/2-inch thick, about the size and shape of a hockey puck.

Set up the flour in a shallow dish, the eggs in another shallow dish, and the panko in a third shallow dish.

Dredge the presents in the flour, egg, and then panko. Set aside.

Add enough oil to a large, deep skillet to come 1/2-inch up the sides. Do not skimp! Heat oil over medium-high heat until very hot, but not smoking. In batches without crowding, fry patties, turning once, until deep golden brown on both sides. Use a slotted spatula to transfer to the baking sheet. When all are ready, bake in the oven for 4 to 6 minutes, more if needed.

While the presents are frying, prepare the relish.

To make relish, combine all ingredients and season with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature. (The relish can be made up to 1 day ahead, covered and refrigerated.

Bring to room temperature before serving.) Serve the pancakes hot, with the relish on the side.

* Panko is Japanese-style breadcrumbs. Many grocery stores now stock it, so if you can't find it, ask for help. Panko is not usually stocked by the Italian breadcrumbs.

Makes about 6 to 8 servings.

Source - Chad Nathan.

Sweet Potato Latkes With Spiced Maple Syrup

For the latkes:

1 pound sweet potatoes

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup matzo meal

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pinch white pepper

2 to 4 tablespoons light olive oil for frying

For the sauce:

1 cup real maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon peeled, grated fresh ginger root

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Pinch of ground cloves

Pinch of salt

Pinch of white pepper

Chopped fresh mint leaves, for garnish

Sour cream or plain yogurt, optional

Scrub the sweet potatoes, then peel and shred on the fine side of a grater or in the food processor. Transfer to a wire-mesh strainer and squeeze to remove moisture.

Let stand in the strainer or a colander placed over a bowl for 5 minutes.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a fork and add the sweet potatoes, baking powder, matzo meal, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Let stand an additional 5 to 10 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the sauce: In a small pan combine the maple syrup, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt and pepper; heat over low heat and keep warm.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet and add a small ladleful of the batter. Flatten gently and fry on both sides till golden-brown. Add more oil to the pan as necessary, and fry the remaining latkes.

Place the latkes on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil.

Pour some of the heated sauce on individual plates and arrange three latkes on top per serving, or use a serving platter and pass the sauce separately.

Garnish with fresh mint. Serve with sour cream or plain yogurt if desired.

Makes 10 to 12 latkes, 4 to 6 servings.

[Last modified December 20, 2005, 11:23:46]

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