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Latkes: out of the frying pan and into the controversies


Oy. Can’t we all just get along?

Not necessarily, when it comes to a serious issue like… latkes. Who knew that the round, oily, fattening foodstuff could be, um, embroiled in such serious debates? The web may be known for courteous, civil dialogue, but it’s gloves off when it comes to latkes.

Latkes vs. Hamantashen

The Latke-Hamantash rivalry has a storied history dating back to 1946. Over the years, some impressive academics have invested a great deal of time in their food fights.

In a 2007 debate at Harvard Hillel, criminal lawyer Alan Dershowitz accused the latke of increasing the United States’ dependence on oil. Retorted psychology professor Steven Pinker, “The poppy industry supports drugs, terrorism, inner-city crime and civil war in Latin America.” He called on latke lovers to sign his petition calling on Harvard and MIT to divest from companies that buy or sell poppy seed hamantashen.


Shredding vs. Grating

The Guardian’s Dave Bry sums up the debate succinctly: “Shredding makes for a creamier inside – more like mashed potato; grating for a bite that retains more of the potato’s pop and texture.” But Bry is definitely in the grating camp. Why? It’s old fashioned. You can tell if you have the right consistency by the feel in your hands. And it allows for the secret ingredient that makes latkes… latkes.

“As you hand-grate your potatoes to make your latkes right, you’re bound to cut yourself. You’re not a robot on an assembly line, cutting car parts with laser beams. You are human. You are human! If you are cut, do you not bleed? You do. Will a bit of your very own blood work its way into your latkes? It will. Will you be able to taste it? No. But it’s important, nevertheless, as so many latke makers will tell you. … The fact that we share that, that we share our foibles and struggles, is the only thing that gets any of us through this horrible holiday season year after year. That, and latkes.”

Oil vs. Fat

Says Laurence Kaufman, “Clearly a latke is not a latke unless it has been fried in schmaltz – which of course makes it fleishig, as indeed it should be, because who would eat a latke without a side of brisket?”

Au contraire says Karl S on the Chowhound discussion board. “Olive oil is the most obvious choice, given the origin of the holiday.” And by using oil, you wind up with a pareve latke, which leads us to…

Sour Cream vs. Applesauce

Applesauce versus sour cream
Applesauce or sour cream
It’s the choice you’re gonna have to make
Which to put on your potato cakes

Life has many decisions
It moves in all directions
This is just one huge, enormous, big decision
You have to make
You have to make it
Jews have to make
The LeeVees – “Applesauce vs. Sour Cream”

“ONLY applesauce with latkes. Sour cream is for blintzes,” argues Nicole.
Adds Laurence Kaufman, “Applesauce is untainted by cholesterol, while sour cream is loaded with it – and as it is said, an applesauce a day keeps the doctor away.”
Counters Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, “Sour cream never goes out of season (unlike apples) and as long as properly refrigerated, will not spoil for the whole week of Chanukah. It is the perfect cool and creamy match to the salty, oily, crispy taste of a latke. It’s a match made in heaven.”


Latkes vs. Sufganiyot

Latkes may be number 1 outside of Israel, but in the Holy Land, the jelly-filled donut reigns supreme. As an immigrant to Israel, Barry Newman is not thrilled that his beloved latke plays second fiddle to the sufganiya. He presents many reasons, including:

• They’re more homey. Besides the fact that latkes are eaten warm, oil sizzling has a more relaxing, comforting sound than that of oil bubbling, which conjures up visions of persecution and torture.

• They’re neater. No chance of cloying raspberry jam dripping down mercilessly staining your clothes.

• They’re storable. A batch of latkes can be whipped up, put into the freezer and heated up days, even weeks, later. A day-old sufganiya tastes only a little worse than it looks.
Although they are both round, latkes live (more or less) on a two-dimensional plane while sufganiyot extend into three dimensions. Carol Green Ungar extrudes some profound life lessons from the spherical foodstuff. “Remember that the sufganiya is a lot like life itself: it’s cyclical, sometimes up and sometimes down; its real sweetness is hidden deep inside, and it needs to be savoured in the moment.”

Can latkes and sufganiyot live in harmony? They do in Naomi Silbermintz’s kitchen thanks to a recipe for Yerushalmi-style sufganiyot in which a yeast mixture is dropped by the spoonful into an inch of oil. “Every Chanukah, when we visited my grandmother, she made these. My mother always said that they are the precursors to jelly donut type Sufganiyot. We used to call them ‘Chanukah Latkes,’ or ‘Savta’s Sufganiyot.’’’