I married into Christina’s family some ten years ago. And while I love her for who she is, I also love her for her holidays. I’m Jewish of Eastern-European heritage. Christina is Catholic— a veritable melting pot of English, Scotch, Irish and German on her father’s side and decidedly Italian on her mother’s side. In a culinary tug-of-war between the Scotts and the Italians, it’s no contest. Haggis versus lasagna just isn’t a fair fight.
Christmas Eve around the Sterner household is all about the Southern Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes. And around the Sterner household, seven is just the starting point—it usually stretches into the mid-teens. My brother-in-law Larry (who also works with us at Frog and writes our By the Glass is a mighty fine cook. Larry oversees our Christmas Eve production and does most of the cooking with assistance from my sister-in-law Susan (who specializes in Christmas cookies). I typically contribute to our fishes total and stick to an Italian dish like baccala. The dinner is always a highlight of the year with its abundant warmth of family and food.
This year, however, our holiday traditions are merging because Hanukkah starts on Christmas Eve. Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights that occurs some time between late November and December. As it is based on the Hebrew calendar, its dates on our Gregorian calendar float around.
Hanukkah celebrates the successful rebellion of the Maccabees and the liberation of the Jewish temple from the tyrant Antichos in 165 BC. As the story goes, upon liberating the temple, only enough sanctified oil was found to burn one night. But miraculously, it burned for eight nights—enough time to prepare a fresh batch of sanctified oil. The eight-candle Jewish menorah is lit each night of Hanukkah to commemorate the event.
The timing of this year is a happy and highly unusual coincidence for blended families like ours. This year, rather than contributing to the fishes, I am going to trim our Christmas Eve celebration with my potato latkes, a dish that is traditionally served at Hanukkah by Jews around the world because it symbolizes the oil in the temple. Of course, you don’t have to be Jewish to love potato latkes. Here’s my recipe for Potato Latkes and Applesauce from At Home by Steve Poses.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!
Traditional Potato Latkes and Applesauce
1 cup apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
2½ pounds apples
sugar to taste
1 pound onion, peeled
1½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Make the applesauce. In a large pot, add apple cider and cinnamon sticks and simmer slowly for 10 minutes.
- Leaving skin on, core apples and cut into chunks.
- Add apples and sugar to pot. Increase heat to high and cover. After about five minutes, stir apples. Continue cooking until soft and falling apart, about 10-15 minutes more.
- Remove cinnamon sticks and reserve. Using a food mill or food processor, puree apples to desired texture. Add cinnamon sticks back and chill. (Remove cinnamon sticks again before serving.)
- Make latkes: On the largest holes of a box grater grate onion and potatoes. Turn the mixture out onto several layers of cheesecloth or an open kitchen towel. Gather the corners and squeeze excess water from the mixture.
- Combine eggs, flour, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add onions and potatoes and mix well.
- Preheat oven to 200°. Line a baking sheet with two layers of paper towels and have another unlined baking sheet ready. Heat ½ cup oil in a sauté pan over moderately high heat until very hot but not smoking. Fill a 1/3 cup measure with the potato mixture. Drop it into the sauté pan and push it down with the flat side of the measuring cup to make a 3-inch pancake. Cook until brown and crisp on one side, about 3-5 minutes, and flip, taking care not to splatter the oil. Continue cooking for 1-2 minutes more, adding more oil as needed. Make more pancakes in batches, transferring cooked pancakes to the prepared sheet to drain. Pat the top of cooked pancakes with another paper towel. Keep pancakes warm in the oven until ready to serve. Serve with applesauce and/or sour cream.
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