By the middle of Chanukah’s eight days, I’ve made traditional potato latkes at least twice, so I’m looking to stretch my imagination and the latke’s potential.
And my family happily indulges in latkes made different ingredients. Because Chanukah celebrates the miracle of how a one-day supply of oil lasted eight days, I don’t feel guilty about tweaking latke ingredients. The word “latke” is Yiddish for pancake. By definition, there is no link to potatoes. Although Ashkenazi Jews claim potato latkes as Chanukah’s signature dish, these crisp potato pancakes are a relative newcomer to Jewish cuisine.
Originating in South America, potatoes were unknown in Europe until the 16th century, when explorers brought back tuber shoots. Because this crop flourished in Eastern Europe, potatoes became a staple of the diet. It didn’t take long for Jews to prepare pancakes from this inexpensive ingredient, which they browned in chicken schmaltz — except at Chanukah when goose fat prevailed.
Yet centuries before the potato’s debut in Europe, Chanukah pancakes were probably made with cheese in honor of the beautiful widow Judith. An unsung heroine, Judith was a contemporary of the Maccabees.
According to legend, she invited a general to dinner, knowing he intended to destroy her town. Because she served him salty cheese, he consumed huge quantities of wine to quench his thirst. When he fell into a drunken sleep, Judith took drastic measures. She murdered the general to save her town.I was unaware of Judith’s story when I tasted my first ricotta pancake. But I knew that almost anything can be mixed with eggs and flour and fried to a crackling crunch. While I love traditional latkes, I don’t obsess about potatoes — because oil is the heart of Chanukah.
Sweet Ricotta Pancakes | Dairy
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more oil for frying
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup pignoli nuts or blanched slivered almonds
Optional accompaniment: creme fraiche or sour cream
Place the ricotta cheese, eggs, flour, vegetable oil, sugar and vanilla extract in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process until the lumps disappear and the mixture swells to a creamy batter. Scrape the sides of the food processor bowl with a spatula. Add the nuts and process briefly until well blended.
Pour ¼-inch of oil into a large, preferably nonstick skillet. Heat on a medium flame. Drop heaping tablespoons of batter into the skillet. When the pancakes bubble and the bottom sides are golden brown, gently turn and brown the other side. Add more oil, if needed.
When the centers are no longer gooey, move them to a platter. Place a teaspoon of confectioners’ sugar in a small sieve and shake it over the pancakes to dust them. Serve immediately with creme fraiche or sour cream, if using.
Yield: 16 to 18 pancakes. JN
This article originally appeared in the Jewish Exponent, a publication affiliated with Jewish News.