From the archives
Hanukkah recipes are passed down from generation to generation. There are hundreds of recipes floating around on the Internet, but I thought it best to consult a friend with trained taste buds. Here is what Warren Bobrow has to say.–Jonell Galloway, Editor
My Favorite Hanukkah Foods
Of all the holiday foods I look forward to, there are two dishes that clearly connect my stomach to the past. The first is a rousing bowl of matzo ball soup. The other, specifically a Hanukkah dish, is a plate of crispy potato latkes, cooked in a heavy cast iron pan.
I forewarn you. This is a Jewish story, so it is repetitive and sometimes fahklumpt (a confused story, for those who are not in the know), told by a kvetch (a complainer) who secretly loves life and food and words and work, and tells a story full of fond memories.
My great-grandmother Yetta made excellent latkes. During these eight days of Hanukkah (eight chances to get it right . . . to be exact), we celebrate the past by reliving these flavors and the stories that go with them each time we bite into a steaming morsel of grated potato, egg, onion and a bit of vegetable oil, made straight from her recipe.
Generations of cooks have grated potatoes for latkes in celebration of Hanukkah. You will not be the first or the last. And every family has their own special recipe, their own special stories.
Bubby Yetta was particularly interested in not scraping her knuckles. Even so, she used to say that if you don’t catch your knuckle on the potato grater, the latkes couldn’t possibly taste good. Something about the physical act of grating potatoes already connects me to the old days when Bubby made the latkes every evening during Hanukkah.
Onions also resonate in my memory: the tears that ran down her cheeks as she grated the onions were not tears of joy. We heard the same kvetching every year, and carry on as we make our own history.
Every day of Hanukkah, Ur-Bubby Yetta would scrape and grate until the job was done. Much hushed conversation would follow. Were the latkes going to be good? If not, what would we do, there was no place in those days to buy frozen latkes in the supermarket!
And with each potato and onion grated, each tear fallen, each latke fried, another memory was made. Years of latke conversation would follow . . . How about the ones we made twenty years ago? Did potatoes taste differently then, or was it a specific taste that stuck in our memories?
So careful with the grater, and accept that you’ll invariably catch your knuckle at least once, and that you may well have the battle scars to prove that you made them from scratch. And stories to tell.