Tasty Hanukkah twists and turns

by | Dec 6, 2019 | Featured

Everyone loves latkes. Making them is another story. is buying frozen potato pancakes at Trader Joe’s selling out? Some say, ‘most definitely.’

This is the first article (of two) featuring serious cooks who ‘play with their food’ and riff on the universally revered potato pancake. Look for the next installment in the December 23 issue of Jewish News.

Jack Siegel’s latkes.

Jack Siegel — A Decade of Happy Hanukkah Extras
Dr.Jack Siegel cops to going behind his mother-in-law’s back and feeding his late father-in-law extra latkes.

“It was a Hanukkah tradition in our house,” says Siegel. “The man loved to eat.” Siegel is referring to his father-in-law, Marino Bertini who was 85 when he passed away in February.

“Marino Bertini was Italian, but he hated pizza! Boy did he love Jewish cooking, he couldn’t get enough potato pancakes. Every year, my mother-in-law would cut him off at four latkes to safeguard his health. And every year he’d circle back to the kitchen, hit up the frying pan and pop more latkes in his mouth.”

What makes Siegel’s latkes so good?

“They’re pretty basic,” says Siegel. “The one oddity is that I sautée celery with the onion, which i think makes it more flavorful. You just have to make sure to drain all the liquid from the potatoes and the celery onion mixture. Another thing i do is fry them in peanut oil and olive oil.”

Siegel’s recipe is his late mother’s mother’s, dating back to late 1800s.

Steve Budman and his traveling skillet.

Steve Budman—Latke Road Show
Steve Budman has his own take on making latkes—and taking them on the road.

“Here’s what i don’t do,” says Budman, a local photographer and home cook. “Everyone says to wrap the potatoes up in a clean dish towel to get moisture out. It’s such a pain. I tried leaving that step out one time and couldn’t tell the difference. They were still crispy. So now, I don’t bother squeezing the mixture.”

Another Budman twist: “I don’t cook them in my kitchen. instead, I use an electric skillet on our back porch to keep the house from smelling like oil for three days.”

“My wife may make the best matzo brei, but my latkes…stand back,” he says with a smile.

Rule # 1. Mise en place. I have all my tools and ingredients together before cooking.

• Canola oil, not olive oil. Taste the potatoes, not the oil.
• Grate a little carrot with the onion for color con- trast and firmer texture.
• Add something green like zucchini or spinach, or sprinkle some parsley.
• Use russet potatoes

“On Christmas day we go to our friend’s home for a beautiful dinner. It’s a tradition,” says Budman. “A couple of years ago, Hanukkah overlapped with Christmas and our friend called with a request. ‘Hey Steve,’ she said, ‘please bring your skillet and make some latkes.’ Of course, i complied.

“Last week we were together and, as she noted, the holidays converge again this year. Guess what she assigned us to bring.”

Have skillet, will travel.

Elizabeth Snyder, and Janie Jacobson Craig.

Janie Jacobson Craig—A Grandmother’s Gold
Janie Jacobson Craig is a Jewish juxtaposition. She is uniquely skilled in traditional, Jewish comfort food, as well as farm-to-table-fresh, and simply prepared whole foods that mark her passion as a teacher, author, and healthy lifestyle pioneer.

Her grandmother, Elizabeth Snyder, “Gram” who passed away at 101, filled her granddaughter’s Hanukkah heart with love and latkes.

“We always had a Hanukkah party at my grandmother’s house,” says Jacobson Craig, “For one thing, she loved her grandchildren and was very accepting. Her home was always open to us. She LOVEd latkes, especially with sour cream. I personally like the shredded potato latke well done, while my family liked them almost burnt.

If you have a Hanukkah-with-a-twist story to share, submit to lrichmon@ujft.org or call Lisa Richmon at 757-576-5472.