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Cookbook author Danielle Renov celebrates Hanukkah with 'perfect' latkes

Perfect Potato Latkes from "Peas Love and Carrots"

Perfect Potato Latkes from "Peas Love and Carrots" by Danielle Renov. Credit: Copyright 2020 by ArtScroll Meso / Moshe Wulliger

This year, Hanukkah will be even more celebratory in Danielle Renov’s family because her son will be bar mitzvah. When I spoke to the Israel-based Instagram star and cookbook author recently, she still wasn't sure exactly how the bar mitzvah would be celebrated, but one thing she knew for sure: Hanukkah would involve latkes.

Renov has latkes down to a science — grating the potatoes to two different textures and letting the squeezed-out potato water stand so she can scoop out the settled potato starch and use it to help bind the pancakes. In her book, "Peas Love & Carrots (ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, 2020), she writes "If you want to use your grandmother’s recipe and amounts, I say, go for it. Just apply the few simple but important techniques here and your latkes will be crispy and delicious every time."

It’s this blend of culinary rigor and openhearted encouragement that has gained Renov’s Instagram (@peaslovencarrots) nearly 70,000 followers and was the inspiration behind her cookbook. "I started the Instagram in 2015, just posting pictures of dinners for me and my family," she said, "and it took off very quickly. I love to tell stories and hear stories and now we’ve created a community of people from all over the world."

Renov’s own background is cosmopolitan. She grew up in Woodsburgh, in Long Island’s Five Towns, with an Ashkenazic father and a mother who was born in Casablanca but grew up in Paris. Thirteen years ago she moved to Israel and, and all of these culinary strands come together in her cooking. Equally important is the obvious joy she takes in preparing meals for her family.

"Providing food for our children that we chose to bring into this world is an obligation," she said. "And like any other obligation, we can approach it with a bitter, resentful feeling or we can embrace it." It helps, she conceded, if "you have a general affinity," but even more important is the cook’s need to go easy on his or herself if things don’t turn out perfect: "We are our own harshest critics. I encourage people to treat themselves with the same understanding that they treat other people with."

On a more practical level, she does not prepare separate foods for her seven children. "I don’t make four different dinners every night," she said. "I worked hard to make sure they are good eaters, and they eat what we eat."

PERFECT POTATO LATKES

"Say bye bye to a house that smells like fried food for days and oil splatters on your clothing," writes Danielle Renov in her cookbook "Peas Love & Carrots (ArtScroll Mesorah Publications, 2020). "It comes down to technique. Simple ingredients, treated properly to maximize what they can do for you in terms of flavor and texture."

5½ pounds red waxy potatoes (a few ounces more or less will not make a difference), peeled

1 large onion, peeled

2 eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Oil, for frying (I like avocado or canola)

1 carrot, washed, cut into 2 inch pieces

1. Peel potatoes and place in a bowl of very cold water (peeled potatoes can stay in cold water in the fridge for a whole day before using). Set up 3 bowls. In one bowl place a colander or fine mesh strainer.

2. Use the fine grater blade of your food processor or the small hole grater of your box grater (the one that looks like spiky circles) to grate the onion.

3. Remove potatoes from water and dry them. Grate half the potatoes in a food processor fitted with the fine grater blade. Switch the blade of the food processor to the fine shredder blade. Grate the remaining potatoes. Add the contents of the food processor to the prepared colander in bowl 1.

4. Working quickly, remove a few handfuls of potato mixture and place onto the center of a tea towel. Gather the four corners of the towel and, over bowl 2, twist and squeeze the towel tightly to extract as much liquid as possible from the potatoes. DO NOT DISCARD THE LIQUID YET. Add the drained potato mixture, which should now be very dry, to bowl 3. Continue this process until all the potato mixture has been squeezed and is now dry and in the third bowl.

5. Gently pour out all the liquid that was collected from the first two bowls until you reach the starchy layer that has accumulated on the bottom. Use a spoon to scrape up the starch and add that to the potato mixture. Add eggs and salt to potato and starch, and mix to combine everything. (I think it’s easiest to mix this by hand, wearing a disposable glove).

6. Place a frying pan over medium high heat. Add ¼ to ½ cup oil (the amount will vary depending on how wide your pan is. You’re looking for a little less than ¼ inch up the side of the pan. Add 1 carrot piece to the oil to absorb any unwanted “brown oil” that occurs from burned bits, and leave it there the whole time you are cooking. Set up a cooling rack over a piece of foil or parchment paper to place fried latkes on.

7. Add 2 tablespoons potato mixture to the hot pan and use the back of a spoon to flatten the patty. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on the first side, until you see the edges darkening, and then flip and cook for 2 minutes on the second side. Transfer latkes to a cooling rack to drain. Repeat with remaining potato mixture. Serve hot and enjoy! Makes about 30 (2-inch) latkes.

TIPS + TRICKS:

* Waxy potatoes make better latkes than Idaho potatoes.

* Using 2 types of graters for the potatoes provides a soft creamy inside and a super crispy outside.

* Do not form perfect round latkes and then put it in the pan. Plop a scoop in the pan and flatten with a spoon. All those “strands” that stick out will get super crispy and be the best part of the latke

* If you don’t have a cooling rack, use a rack from your oven!

* To keep warm or reheat, place entire cooling rack in a 200-degree oven, uncovered. Alternatively, place latkes in a single layer on a baking sheet, uncovered, at the same temperature. The rack method will yield a better result but a baking sheet will still work!

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