Latkes with leek, celery and baharat

It’s the first day of December, the weather is balmy, and it’s also the first night of Hanukkah. The winter festival of lights came as somewhat of a surprise this year — I knew it was approaching, and I saw the growing quantities of jelly donuts at all the bakeries, but for some reason I never internalized that Hanukkah was approaching. Possibly because it still feels like summer. In fact, if it weren’t starting to get dark by 4:15 p.m., then there would be no way to tell it’s not summer.

That said, I didn’t get around to planning anything too grand for the holiday. I knew I wanted potatoes to make latkes, but I kept forgetting to buy them. Fortunately, when I remembered a few hours in advance that it was the first night of Hanukkah, I had a few potatoes in the fridge already.

Planning or not, I managed to pull together a lovely batch of latkes that take their inspiration from the fried potato patties of the Middle East, rich in vegetables, herbs and spices. Turmeric gives them a lovely golden color that I think we should get used to seeing in latkes. I fried them in a ceramic coated frying pan with only enough olive oil to help them brown, so they came out oil free enough that I didn’t even have to blot off the extra oil with paper towels.

Far better than latkes whose primary flavor element is frying oil, if you ask me. Even if this does somewhat violate the spirit of a holiday focused on oil.

For about 25 small latkes:

2 large potatoes (about 500 grams/1 pound)
2 stalks celery with leaves
2-inch/5-centimeter section of a fat leek, preferably the white part
1 egg
1/4 cup matzo meal
1/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon baharat spice mix (or 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and pinches of nutmeg, cardamom and allspice)
1/2 teaspoon salt
fresh black pepper

olive oil for frying

Chop the celery and leek in a food processor.

Put a grating blade on the food processor, and use it to grate the potatoes (if your food processor doesn’t do this for you, you’ll have to use a food grater. Watch out for your knuckles).

Mix the grated/chopped vegetables with the egg, the flour, the matzo meal and the spices.

Heat a nonstick frying pan, and add a tablespoon or so of oil. Drop heaping tablespoons of batter into the pan, and cook the latkes on a medium flame so that they can brown slowly. Flip once the bottoms are browned, and brown the other side.

Repeat with the rest of the batter, adding more oil as necessary. (No, they shouldn’t stick even without oil, but in a dry pan they’ll turn black instead of golden colored.)

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