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Chanukah disaster: Not a potato latke in sight


Initially, I had noble literary plans as a Chanukah project for this year’s holiday. Going with the theme of “light,” I thought it would be interesting to compile the best quotes or verses from Tanach and literature using the word or concept of light.

Alas, my inspiration has been commandeered by more humble and mundane endeavors, namely latkes and sufganiyot — by spuds and a variety of fried doughs, drenched in sweet syrups, just as central to Chanukah, mind you, as the poetic or philosophical concept of light.

The thing is, latkes have gotten so complicated. Once upon a time, life was simple and crystal clear. You fried latkes from shredded lacey potatoes, an onion, some eggs, maybe a bit of matzah meal or oats, and a dash of salt and pepper. You could be confident at a Chanukah party when reaching for the mountain of latkes platter, because you knew what you were going to get: a hot fried disc of delicious fried potatoes.

Then gourmet options invaded tradition. Sacrilegious things like butternut latkes, cauliflower latkes, and zucchini latkes started appearing out of nowhere! What is this? Are they trying to trump the humble spud?

Now please understand, I think low carb vegetable latkes are a wonderful thing. A wonderful thing, indeed. Personally, I also try to eat more of these root veggies and think it a wonderful thing to incorporate them into our meals in appealing ways.

So preparing such latkes is fine — as an ancillary latke. But for a primary traditional latke? There is only one, my friend, and it’s the potato latke. I worry about tampering with hallowed Jewish traditions. The previous generation did away with herring. Is the potato latke next in line? Please, let us learn from our past.

Serve up deliciously healthy zucchini, feta and dill latkes, or beet and goat cheese latkes, any day. (I draw the line at kale latkes; actually, just kidding, those are delicious too.) Yum! But let’s not mess with the brilliant simplicity of the perfect hot and crispy potato latke.

Actually, growing up, a sweet fried cheese latke was also part of my family’s repertoire, so that too is traditional to me. And I understand, different traditions fry different foods. By all means, make newer, healthier versions of latkes the “new tradition” for the coming generations. I beg you, though, just don’t replace the classic latke! With the positive development of more healthy food awareness, I fear it is becoming an endangered Chanukah species.

Two Chanukah parties down, and not a potato latke in sight! What is this?

Thankfully, sufganiyot (or ponchkas as many of our European grandmothers called them) and many other versions of fried dough drenched or dusted in sweet sugar, were abundant. So, what gives? Are we too gourmet, too sophisticated, to maintain the humble spud as the star of the culinary Chanukah table? (The “upgrade” from the sour cream latke condiment has been Greek Yogurt, so at least it’s Chanukah-themed. But that’s another discussion for another time, the applesauce versus sour cream debate.)

I am actually missing the halachic guidelines of a holiday; maybe there should have been a tractate for latkes, after all. Something along the lines of: One may be permitted to feast on latkes of all kinds; potato latkes, however, are a requirement. Work with me here, because we must ensure the survival of the humble and deliciously divine fried potato latke that our grandparents and parents once upon a time ate on every Chanukah.

Once I am assured that this sacrilegious diversion from the potato latke is repaired, then I can invest my energies in more intellectual literary Chanukah projects.

Copyright Intermountain Jewish News