Not the usual latkes

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WHENEVER I prepare for Hanukkah, II make a variety of pancakes, fried in oil, according to tradition. Sometimes the pancakes include potatoes, sometimes just flour and sometimes a medley of vegetables.

Some are large and some cocktail size, sometimes topped with sour cream or with apple sauce or even a chipotle cream.

Most of these recipes I learned when living in Israel, probably the epicenter of latkes or levivot, the generic term in Hebrew for all manner of vegetable or flour pancakes. These recipes have come from all over the world.

But in the United States, with the overwhelming majority of Jews emanating from Eastern Europe, we associate Hanukkah only with the potato pancake, a relative newcomer to Hanukkah tables.

In the 18th century, potatoes came to Eastern Europe from the Americas, and Jews, like everyone else, began cooking them; the tuber was a cheap way of filling hungry stomachs. Chances are, the potato pancake, eaten by everyone - Christian and Jew - was just another way of varying the tuber.

In the ancient world, Hanukkah was as much a celebration of the olive and its juice as it was of the miracle of the oil and its representation of religious freedom. Hanukkah celebrates the famous miracle of the Maccabees, in 164 Before the Common Era, when Judah Maccabee and his brothers found a drop of olive oil in the Temple of Jerusalem after it had been devastated by the Assyrians. The oil gave them light for not one but eight days, and to this day eight candles are lit as a reminder of the olive oil used in the Temple in Jerusalem.

What follows are some of my favorite pancake recipes, adapted from my book, "The Foods of Israel Today" (Knopf, $40).

 Polish Apple-Potato Latkes

1 pound russet potatoes, peeled

1 full-flavored apple, such as Granny Smith or Fuji

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1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup flour (about)

1 teaspoon salt

Few grinds black pepper

Vegetable or peanut oil for frying

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Powdered sugar for sprinkling

1. Peel and grate potatoes and apple into mixing bowl, working quickly to avoid discoloration. You can also use food processor fitted with grating blade.

Squeeze out and drain any accumulated liquid. Quickly add egg, flour, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.

2. Heat about 1/2-inch oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.

3. Drop batter in dollops of 3 tablespoons each, flattening each pancake with spatula, and cook 3 to 4 minutes until first side is brown, then flip pancakes and cook until second side is brown. Drain on paper towels and continue with rest of batter.

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4. Serve as is or sprinkled with powdered sugar. Makes 10 (3-inch) pancakes.


Pan-Sephardic Leek Latkes With Pine Nuts And Parmesan Cheese (Keftes de Prassas)

6 leeks (about 2 pounds)


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2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1/4 cup for frying

1 large onion, diced

6 cloves garlic, minced

4 shallots, diced

1/3 cup pine nuts

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped (about 1 cup)

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup grated Parmesan or Kashkeval cheese

Few grinds black pepper

1/2 cup bread crumbs or matzo meal, plus 1/3 cup for coating

1. Slice leeks lengthwise and wash well to remove grit. Bring large pot of water to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and leeks and simmer 5 minutes. Drain and cool.

2. Dice white and some of green part of leeks into small pieces, about 1/2- inch thick. Drain well, pressing leeks in dish towel to dry and remove any excess water.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in skillet. Add onion, garlic and shallots and saute until soft, about 5 minutes.

4. Scatter pine nuts on baking sheet and toast at 350 degrees 2 to 3 minutes, until evenly browned.

5. In mixing bowl, combine leeks, onion mixture, pine nuts, cilantro, eggs and cheese and blend well, adding salt and pepper to taste. Add about 1/2 cup bread crumbs or enough to bind ingredients together.

6. Using 1/4-cup measure, form leek mixture into 2-inch diameter patties. (For cocktail-size patties, use 1 heaping teaspoon mixture. This will make a latke about 3/4-inch in diameter.) Coat each patty with remaining bread crumbs. Repeat until all batter is used up.

7. Coat nonstick skillet evenly with some of remaining olive oil and fry patties, a few at a time, 2 to 3 minutes on each side, adding more oil as needed. Drain on paper towels. Makes about 16 large latkes or 50 small ones.

Hava Volman's Corn-Onion Latkes With Chipotle Cream

1 cup corn kernels (cut from 2 or more ears blanched fresh corn)

1/2 medium onion, grated (about 1/2 cup)

2 green onions, chopped

1/3 cup finely chopped red bell pepper

1 tablespoon grated ginger

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon snipped fresh dill

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro or to taste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

Few grinds black pepper

1/2 cup matzo meal

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 large eggs, separated

5 tablespoons canola or other frying oil

Chipotle cream (see note)

1. In mixing bowl, combine corn, onion, green onions, red bell pepper, ginger, garlic, dill, cilantro, cumin, salt, freshly ground pepper, matzo meal, baking powder and egg yolks. Mix well.

2. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into corn batter.

3. Heat oil in heavy skillet. Carefully heap tablespoonsful of corn batter into pan and fry, a few at a time, about 2 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels. Serve unadorned or topped with dollop of chipotle cream. Makes about 20 latkes.

Note: To make chipotle cream, in a food processor, puree 1 cup sour cream, 1 chipotle or jalapeno chile, 1 tablespoon lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Makes 1 cup.

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