Hanukkah, It's All About The Light - חנוכה, לגבי נר התמיד
Every Hanukkah the media in Israel and abroad, produce a flurry of articles, posts, human interest stories, morning show guest spots etc. etc. about latkes. What are latkes? Why are they eaten on Hanukkah? Why don't Israelis eat latkes on Hanukkah (or maybe they do)? What is Hanukkah? It's as though there is yearly global amnesia about the most popular and festive of Jewish holidays.
And every year I get requests for my latke recipe which is flattering but a bit puzzling as well. It is after all just a fried potato pancake - often eaten in Germany, Austria and many other northern European countries - and easily reproducible from countless recipes on the internet. I suppose the reason is that it is not really about the latkes at all but about the memories they evoke and how Hanukkah reminds some of us of the importance of letting the light in, especially when the nights, literally and figuratively, are the longest.
My family, of course, has its own recipe and its own technique and both recipe and technique involve potatoes. How to get the potatoes, what kind of potatoes, how to grate them, and so on. So I was a bit surprised when I read in The Times of Israel an article about the origin of latkes.
An article that discussed how Roman Jews created ricotta pancakes fried in oil to celebrate the holiday and that this was the first latke that was "invented" much before Eastern European Jews grabbed the pedestrian potato and grated it. They attributed this to a Sephardic tradition and though they didn't print it, didn't say it, that the well known Ashkenazi version is a knock-off, an ersatz version of the real thing, born out of desperation and frankly, appropriated.
It is popular now to talk about who is a real Jew. In a rapid fire reverse there are countless assertions that Ashkenazi Jews are pretenders. The evidence - their traditions and customs do not originate in the Middle East. They were no potatoes in Judea and Samaria, therefore the Ashkenazi are converts from the Kuzari. Surprise, there were no tomatoes in Italy at the time of Judea and Samaria. They are new world foods and still Italian food is rife with tomatoes. Traditions change. People migrate. They make do with what they have. Original is meaningless here.
Hanukkah is the celebration of a miracle - perhaps not a literal one - but a miracle nonetheless. It was a miracle that the law, the book, the idea of Judaism survived and is represented by a light that is never extinguished.
We eat latkes, whatever they are made of - potatoes, ricotta, yams - because they are fried in oil. Israelis wait all year to eat sufganiot (donuts) because they are sweet and delicious and they are fried in oil. The oil represents the lamp and the lamp represents miracle of light. Light to learn by, light to ready by, light to live by.
This Hanukkah I have eaten a few sufganiot. I have made potato latkes. I sent a potato kiegel recipe to a cousin so that he could enjoy his own take on the holiday. And this year, once again I sent the latke recipe to our son who I know, knows how to make them. I think he likes the ritual of asking every year.
In mind of the "origins of latkes" article, I decided to create a new recipe that is less concerned about where the tradition started and more focused on what we have become today . This recipe combines Ashkenazi technique, Sephardic leek ingredients, Levantine flour and Mizrachi condiments.
As with all the recipes it will be also be published later under a Creative Commons License. The attribution is important to me. If you enjoy the soup, let me know and don't forget the shout-out.
BT's Leek and Chive Levivot (Hebrew version coming soon)
2 large leeks
1 bunch garlic chives or 2 bunches onion chives
1 serrano chili
1/2 cup chickpea flour
60 ml sunflower oil or ghee
1 large tomato
1 small container labane (kefir cheese)
Remove all dry outer leaves from leaks
Split down the middle of the stalk and soak in cold water to remove any dirt or insects
Wash chives in cold water and put aside
Seed and devein the chili
In a small frying pan add 20 ml of oil
Turn heat on medium
When oil is hot, finely dice chili and add to pan
Sauté 1 minute
Cut leeks and chives lengthwise into thin strips
Reduce heat to medium low
Add leeks and chives to pan
Sauté until wilted but still green
Add pinch of salt, nutmeg, cloves and ground pepper
Remove vegetables from pan and place in a colander to drain
When totally drained and cool, place vegetables on a cutting board and chop into fine pieces
Separate two eggs - yolks from whites
Put eggs yolks and one whole egg into a mixing bowl
Add leeks and chives and mix thoroughly
Add chickpea flour to vegetable egg mixture
Add pinch of salt to egg whites and whip until they form soft peaks
Fold egg white into vegetable mix retaining as much air as possible
Heat on medium flame remaining oil in a cast iron pan
Spoon batter into pan in shape of pancakes
Turn when they are golden brown
Remove from pan and place on paper towel to absorb excess oil
Thoroughly wash tomato and hand grate (do not use a blender) the fruit using a fine gauge
Serve the levivot (latkes) with labane and freshly grated tomato