Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Latkes an integral part of traditional Hanukkah meal

Each year, L'Chaim Kosher Catering of Tucson makes  thousands of <em>latkes</em> for advance orders.

Each year, L'Chaim Kosher Catering of Tucson makes thousands of <em>latkes</em> for advance orders.

At his kitchen table with his two young sons, Chad Belson munches happily on a golden brown potato pancake. Not even a thick coating of sour cream could obscure its crunchiness.

“Within our circle of friends, these things are legendary,” says the 35-year-old resident of Voorhees, N.J.

It is fitting latke-making has become his mouth-watering Hanukkah habit: Latkes are traditional Hanukkah food, much as ham or lamb is usual Easter fare for many Christians.

Potatoes for latkes can be shred with a grater or pulverized by food processor, but Belson prefers his own method. A KitchenAid mixer with the meat attachment produces his ideal potato-onion consistency – what he calls a wet oatmeal mix.

Though Belson offers these tips, it’s not an exact science, so cooks can freely adjust the method.

• Use a cast-iron skillet.

• Fry in a half inch of oil (peanut oil combined with canola); no need to deep-fry.

• Use two forks to turn and flip the pancakes. It should reduce spattering.

• Alternately grind onions and potatoes, instead of one ingredient at a time. The onion shreds seem to lessen the likelihood of grated potatoes turning brownish-gray.

• Minimize the time the mixture sits before frying.

• Use russet potatoes.

• Use a nonmetallic bowl to avoid a “tinny” taste.

Jewish scholar Carol Harris-Shapiro’s Internet search found latke recipes with what might be considered odd ingredients. How do latkes with cheese in a red wine sauce, asparagus, cinnamon, beets, carrots, parsnips – even calves brains – sound?

“There’s always some new creative latke recipe around Hanukkah time,” says the teacher of the Foodways in the American Jewish Experience course at Gratz College in Melrose Park, Pa.

The Festival of Lights, which this year began at sundown Tuesday, is an eight-day observance commemorating a miracle nearly 2,200 years ago. During rededication of a Jerusalem temple after the Jewish victory over the Greeks, though there was only enough sacred oil to burn the Eternal Light for one day, it lasted for eight.

Most of us think of Jewish cooking as matzo balls, gefilte fish, chicken soup, brisket and other Eastern European foods.

But there’s another Jewish food tradition – the cuisine of the Mediterranean Sephardim. It’s lesser known but equally delicious.

Sephardic food is full of aromatic spices and herbs, and is spicier than its sweeter European counterparts.

“The food is different because their history is different,” says Aaron May, chef of Sol y Sombra in Scottsdale, a Spanish restaurant that includes an occasional traditional Sephardic dish on its menu.

During the Middle Ages, the word sepharad, the Hebrew name for an area of Asia settled by exiled Jews, came to mean Spain. The exiles lived there until 1492, when the Jews were forced to convert to Christianity, flee the country or be burned at the stake.

Many settled in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey and Greece and adopted the culinary traditions of their newfound countries while preserving the Spanish influence.

The result is a cuisine built on nuts, dried fruits, honey, wild game and grains. Olive trees grow abundantly throughout the Mediterranean, and their golden oil is infused in almost every recipe.

That’s why at Hanukkah, a time to celebrate with fried foods, Sephardic Jews naturally turn to dishes cooked in olive oil. Cooking in oil commemorates the miracle of Hanukkah, when a band of Jews in 165 B.C. recaptured the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from the Syrian-Greeks. When they entered the desecrated sanctuary, they found only enough pure oil to kindle the menorah for a day. But the oil miraculously lasted eight days.

Typical Hanukkah foods include jelly doughnuts and potato pancakes, and although they’re delicious, too, May created Sephardic-inspired dishes for the holiday, beginning with rabbit with almonds and dried figs.

He spiced up potato pancakes with smoked paprika and marjoram, and instead of jelly doughnuts, created a pear, apple, sweet potato and butternut squash arrope with fried cinnamon bread.

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These events are tied to Hanukkah, which started at sundown Tuesday.

ANNUAL HANUKKAH PARTY: Music by Israeli teen performing group Dor Sheni,, followed by menorah lighting, latke dinner, holiday crafts, dreidel games and dessert. The Tzedakah project will accept donations of warm clothing and blankets for the homeless as part of Operation Deep Freeze. When: 5:15 p.m. Where: Congregation Anshei Israel, 5550 E. Fifth St. Price: $13 at the door, $6.13 in advance Info: 745-5550, www.caiaz.org

GREATEST HANUKKAH ON EARTH! Temple Emanu-El hosts this annual Festival of Lights event featuring menorah lighting, music by Avanim Rock Band, drama, dance, storytelling and children’s activities. Bring a menorah and seven candles to light. Reservations required for those who wish to join in on a kosher brisket and latke dinner. When: 4:30-6:30 p.m. Where: Temple Emanu-El, 225 N. Country Club Road Price: admission is free Info: 327-4501, www.templeemanueltucson.org



Recipes with a Sephardic Jewish background can enliven a formerly staid Hanukkah dinner with flavors of the Mediterranean.


The Arizona Republic

Rabbit with Fig Conserva


1 rabbit, jointed

1 1/2 cups dry white wine

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup chicken stock

2 white onions, sliced

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup all-purpose flour

Place rabbit pieces in a bowl and cover with wine and paprika, refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours. Drain rabbit, reserving marinade and dust with all-purpose flour. In a cast-iron skillet, heat extra-virgin olive oil over medium high heat and fry rabbit until golden brown. Reserve on a side plate.

Add onions to the oil and cook until caramelized. Return rabbit to pan and add chicken stock and marinade. Simmer covered 45 to 50 minutes or until tender. Add vinegar and continue cooking 5 to 10 minutes more. Remove from heat and let rabbit cool in cooking liquid.

Fig conserva

1 cup honey

1 cup chopped Marcona almonds

1/2 pound dried figs

3/4 cup turbinado sugar

port, enough to cover ingredients

1 cinnamon stick

2 star anise pods

1 vanilla bean

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over low heat until figs are soft and liquid is thickened. Strain sauce, reserving the figs and liquid separately. Aromatics can be discarded.

To serve, heat a skillet with a small amount of oil and place rabbit in pan. Fry until crisp, remove and dip one side into honey. Dip same side into crushed almonds and then place in the center of the plate almond side up. Garnish with figs and port reduction.

Makes 6 servings.

Potato Pancakes a Las Bravas
Russets are the standard baking potato.

Potato pancakes

2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and large diced

2 large white onions, sliced

1 large egg

1 teaspoon baking powder

6 to 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 teaspoons chopped marjoram

salt and pepper, to taste

Boil potatoes in aggressively salted water until soft. Drain, feed through food mill and reserve. Heat medium-size sauté pan on medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil, and when hot, sauté onions until translucent, season and fold into potato. Add pepper, paprika and herbs to the mixture and whisk in egg, baking powder and salt and pepper to taste.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons oil and, when hot, fry 2 pancakes, turning once, until golden brown on both sides. Add more oil, if necessary, and continue cooking rest of pancakes. Pancakes can be held in a 200-degree oven for up to 30 minutes.

Bravas sauce

2 cups mayonnaise

1/4 cup smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon lime juice

1/4 cup chopped parsley

salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix through. Serve over potatoes.

Makes 6 servings.

Arrope with Cinnamon Torrijas

3 Bosc pears

3 Braeburn apples

5 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup lemon zest

1/2 cup orange zest

1 small sweet potato, cubed

1 cup butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 cup dark rum

2 teaspoons honey

Leaving skin on, remove all seeds from fruit and slice into eighths. Cube squash and sweet potato and place all into a large bowl. Sprinkle with the sugar and citrus zest, cover with a plate and weigh it down in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours, long enough for liquid to gather at the bottom of the bowl. Transfer to a heavy-bottom pan with high sides and cook over low heat until softened, then add 1 tablespoon oil.

Once soft, raise the heat to medium high and boil 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in rum and honey. Return to heat and cook over medium flame 10 to 15 minutes more. Let stand at room temperature.


1 loaf egg bread

3 cups whole milk

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

In mixing bowl, combing cinnamon and sugar and reserve. Remove crust from the bread and slice into 1 1/2-inch-thick slices. Dip into whole milk and fry over medium high heat until golden on both sides. Remove from pan and toss in sugar mixture. Serve with arrope.

Makes 6 servings.

Source: All recipes from chef Aaron May of Sol y Sombra in Scottsdale.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2