As usual, I'm using the holiday to do things a little bit differently for the column, though it seems like with this whole Thanksgivukkah business, everyone's doing the holidays a little bit differently this year. So today's column is actually an ode to not doing things differently. I'm using this as my opportunity to share the two most traditional and most delicious Chanukah recipes that I know and that are likely to exist. When it comes to latkes and applesauce, I have no desire to try anything new. I love both sweet potatoes and spinach, but I don't want them in my latkes. I think cranberry applesauce sounds like the perfect Thanksgivukkah condiment, but seriously, I'm not messing with this recipe.
I'm going to be busy on Thanksgiving, so I'm pre-writing this. I'll be with my in-laws for the holiday, so my parents came to visit a few days beforehand, and they're sitting in my living room as I write this. (The life of a blogger — nothing is, apparently, too meta.) Though we won't be together to eat these perfect Chanukah foods, I can share my parents' recipes in their honor and in honor of the traditional traditions that just taste like tradition.
Ingredients from my dad, description from my memory
1/2 small onion
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 cups cubed raw potato
(I also have a note that says, "4 potatoes, 3 Tbsp. flour," so do with that what you will)
Wash and peel the potatoes. Make sure you have either 1) a food processor, or 2) a hand grater, and a) super strong arm muscles, or b) a lot of people to help.
I'm going to proceed as if you have the food processor because honestly, the effort might not be worth it otherwise: Use the grater attachment to grate the potatoes. Move them to a bowl in batches as the food processor bowl fills up. Once the potatoes are all in a big mixing bowl, grab a big handful of grated potatoes and the onion and put it in the food processor with the normal chopping blade. Mix the two consistencies of potato together and add all the remaining ingredients.
Notice that "oil" is not in my list of ingredients. Oops. Get yourself a big bottle of vegetable oil, and don't be shy. A cast iron pan is ideal for frying. A stainless steel frying pan is good, too, and a non-stick frying pan will suffice if it's the only option. The stainless will be the hardest to clean and will probably result in the biggest mess, but non-stick just doesn't get quite the right crust on the outside.
Heat up enough oil so that the bottom of the pan is fully coated and then add a little bit. Expect your first batch to fall apart and eat them immediately in the privacy of the kitchen so that none of your guests have to be burdened by the misformed amazingness. Form patties with your hands or between two spatulas, squeezing out any liquid as you go. You can also use a spoon and press the batter against the side of the bowl before dropping in the pan. Wait for the sides of the latkes to become obviously brown and then flip carefully to avoid oil splatters and having your latkes turn into hashbrowns. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Devour immediately with...
I learned this one from my mom. What a blessing to know that one of the best foods on earth only has one actual ingredient:
(The guy at the farmer's market says to use a mixture of varieties. Use as many as you can; it freezes beautifully.)
Wash and peel the apples. Cut into chunks and put into a stock/soup pot. Put in enough water to cover the bottom of the pan by about an inch. Last time I did this, I used about 6 apples and 2 cups of water. You shouldn't be able to see the water over the apples.
Turn the burner on high until the water boils, then turn down to simmer and let it go. If this is the first time you're making applesauce, check it frequently to be sure you have enough water so that it's not burning. You can also stir frequently so that all the apples end up having the same consistency. Plus, it's fun to watch them break down and transform before your eyes. They should be in the pot for about 45 minutes, but really, when it starts to look, smell and taste like applesauce, you're good to go. If it turns out you put in too much water, you can drain some of it off before the next step.
Either an immersion blender or a potato masher will help get the right consistency, depending on whether you like chunky applesauce or not. You can add sugar if you feel the need. You can add cinnamon to give a little more complexity of flavors. You can also eat it just the way it is, plain or on latkes.
Happy Chanukah, happy Thanksgiving, happy once in 70,000 years, and happy eating the foods that just feel right for the holidays.
P.S. I'm online editing my blog on Thanksgiving night because I have to say this: My mother-in-law served sweet potato latkes today, and they were totally amazing. Here's hoping everyone had a celebratory and (ful)filling day with family and/or friends, and that whatever you ate, it was delicious.