Some things have to be said without shame and straight out. This is one of them: I love oil. Not the kind that leaks out of my convertible 1970’s red Beetle, but the kind that sizzles, sputters and splashes all over my kitchen counter while feverishly altering some bland forgettable food into culinary ecstasy. Yes, I know it’s not politically correct to adore oil as I do, I realize the health implications, I know an embarrassing percentage of the American population is obese and we are all much more sedentary than we should be. Still, I can’t help myself. I merely try to use restraint, purchase plenty of carrots and celery, drive by the gym frequently, and wait with great anticipation for that fabulous moment when it will be acceptable,required;, to pull out my deep fryer: Hanukkah. Hanukkah, which begins next week, represents eight days of culinary glory where Jews are encouraged to eat foods cooked in oil, to represent the oil in the menorah that miraculously burned for eight nights instead of one during the battle between the Macabees and King Antiochus, many, many years ago.And so, with great pomp and circumstance, the deep fryer comes back out from its hiding place in the garage and stands proud and shiny on my kitchen counter where it will steal the show night after night with an assortment of fried goodies. During this time no health experts can give me or my conscience a hard time. Greasy foods become a prerequisite for my religion and my traditions and there’s no messing with that.
Uncle Joe's Latkes
Hanukkah must start, continue, and end with traditional latkes (potato pancakes) and when I think of latkes I remember my Uncle Eliasaf, whom my sisters and I endearingly referred to as "Uncle Joe". A tall man with a sparkle in his eye and a knack for making friend wherever he went, Uncle Joe would love to fix us batch after batch of his famous latkes in his tiny, Jerusalem kitchen. Uncle Joe passed away several years ago but the memory of his crispy delicious latkes remains vibrant in my mind. Although I never got his original recipe, these come pretty close.
6 Idaho potatoes
1/2 cup chopped scallions (including green part)
1 medium-sized onion
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
corn oil for frying
Peel potatoes and place in a bowl with cold water. Using a hand grater, grate potatoes. Place potatoes in a colander and rinse with cold water. Let sit for five minutes, then rinse again, making sure water rinses all of the shredded potato (this helps eliminate the starch, which turns the potato a reddish color). Squeeze water out of the potatoes and let sit in colander while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Grate onion. Mix onion, scallions, eggs, flour, baking powder and salt and pepper in a bowl. Add grated potatoes and mix well (I find tossing mixture with your bare hands works best). Heat oil in a non-stick skillet on medium-high heat. When oil is hot, use a large spoon to scoop latkes mixture. Press onto spoon with your hand and gently drop the spoonful into the skillet. Fry until latkes are golden on each side, approximately 2 to 3 minutes each side. Drain on paper towel.
Makes about 2 dozen latkes
Sufganiot (Jelly Doughnuts)
(Adapted from "The Joy of Cooking")
A bit of a hassle but once you've tasted these, you'll never go back.
1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
2 envelopes active dry yeast
(2 1/4 teaspoons each)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons)
2/3 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs, plus 1 egg white, lightly beaten (divided)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
grated zest of 1/2 lemon or 1/4 orange
1 cup favorite jam
In a medium bowl, stir together the warm water with the yeast. Let stand until the yeast has dissolved, 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of flour and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until bubbly, 30 to 60 minutes. In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar and beat one at a time, beating thoroughly after each egg is added. Add vanilla, salt and zest; beat another minute. Add the yeast mixture along with the remaining 3 1/2 cups flour and mix with a wooden spoon until fully incorporated and the dough becomes elastic.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, 1 1/2 – 2 hours.
Punch the dough down, wrap tightly in plastic and then a plastic bag (eliminating all air ensures no crust will form on the dough).
Refrigerate for 3 hours.
On a floured work surface, roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Do not roll out the dough more than two times, as it tends to get tough. Cut into 48 rounds, 2 to 3 inches in diameter, and place 1 teaspoon of your favorite jam in the center of 24 rounds. Brush the edges with egg white, then cover with a round and pinch shut with fingertips.
Let rise, unocovered, until puffy, about 30 minutes.
Fill a deep-fryer with oil and heat to 365 degrees. Fry until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Cool doughnuts for 5 to 10 minutes, then dust with powdered sugar. Eat right away.
Makes 2 dozen
Hanukkah Pecan Chicken
(Adapted from "The New Basics Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins)
It's time to be proud and celebrate the grease, and what better dish than fried chicken? If you don't have a deep-fryer, don't sweat it, just use a deep skillet and watch out for the splatter.
1 3 to 4 pound fryer chicken, cut in 8 pieces
3/4 cup pecans
1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/4 cup wate
rcorn oil for frying
Pat chicken dry. Chop pecans fine in a food processor or blender. Combine the chopped pecans, flour, cornmeal, paprika, salt, pepper and cayenne in a shallow bowl; mix well. In another shallow bowl, blend the eggs and water.Heat the oil in a deep-fryer to 356 degrees (if using a skillet, heat the oil on medium-high heat; the oil should be hot but not smoking). Dip the chicken into the egg mixture, then coat well in the dry mixture. Shake off any excess.Place several pieces in the fryer basket (or in the skillet) and cook until golden (10 to 15 minutes in the fryer, 20 to 30 minutes in the skillet). Drain the chicken on paper towels.