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JewishJournal.com

December 18, 2003

Courageous Women and Cheese Latkes

http://www.jewishjournal.com/celebrations_simchas/article/courageous_women_and_cheese_latkes_20031219

My 10-year-old daughter came home from school sad, her shoulders carrying the kind of weight that breaks a mother's heart. She faced a tough dilemma: friends who were no longer true friends, demanding her to compromise who she is or be alone. It's the kind of challenge we all meet many times in life, in different disguises. The fear of being alone versus the self-destruction of changing who you are so as not to be alone; the challenge of the mere one of us against the seeming might of the many of them; the overwhelming feeling of odds stacked against you, of being quietly different from the louder group but choosing anyway, to believe in yourself.

After talking with my daughter and realizing that, as she gets older, there will be fewer and fewer quick fixes, and inevitable times of pain, I said, "Do you want to make latkes?"

"Yes!" she said standing up wiping away tears, "but after my homework."

While she spread her heavy books on the kitchen table, I set about organizing the counter: latke mix (sometimes instant gratification is in order!), eggs, cold water, measuring cups, glass mixing bowls and cheeses -- cheddar, mozzarella and feta. The reason for the cheese is because a few days earlier, while we were driving to gymnastics, I asked my daughter if she had any Chanukah recipe ideas, and she said, without missing a beat, "cheese latkes."

"Just mix in some shredded cheddar cheese with the batter so it is a little bit cheesy," she said, and the idea sounded full of promise.

The next day, in my continued Chanukah research in "The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary," by Michael Strassfeld, I discovered, surprisingly, the importance of cheese, women and courage to the Chanukah story. It seems that tucked quietly beside the bigger story of Chanukah, of Mattathias and his sons leading a band of Jewish allies to defeat the Greeks and liberate the Temple in Jerusalem, lies the story of a lone, brave woman. During one of many Syrian attacks, the Jews in the city felt they had no hope. So, according to the story, a woman named Judith slipped out of the city and into the Syrian camp catching the approving eye of the Syrian general. She then prepared a beguiling feast for him, including a spread of cheeses, to make him thirsty.

Well, he drank too much wine, fell asleep, and then Judith beheaded him. As the Book of Judith explains, the discovery of their dead general -- and the Jews marching with his head -- led the Syrian army to flee.

Given the day my daughter had, and the ones she faced, making cheese latkes seemed perfect. I passed her the ingredients so she could set about creating her own version. With the whisk in her right hand and the rim of a large glass bowl in her left, she stirred two eggs into a smooth yellow liquid.

Next, she added cold water and mixed some more. Then, she measured 1/2 cup mixture of shredded cheddar and mozzarella. I said maybe that would not be enough cheese to make a difference, but she disagreed. So after she put the batter carefully in the oil, a first time for her, we fried her latkes to a perfect golden brown. While the oil crackled, and the cheese latkes crisped, the kitchen and her face filled with new warmth.

Halfway through the bowl of batter, we decided to sample the hot latkes piling up on a platter, and voila, like in the Book of Judith, a little bit of cheese went a long way. And the taste, as my daughter predicted, was just cheesy enough.

Emboldened by her success and by Judith's idea of salty cheese, I set aside some of the batter and added crumbled feta cheese and a sprinkle of finely chopped walnuts, and fried those as the last batch. I wanted to try a saltier version, a more potent, grown-up cheese latke. And it worked. The toasted walnuts added an unexpected crunch, like a touch of mischief, and the bright white feta fried into the golden batter added visual texture and a fun salty bite -- enough to invoke a generous thirst, but not to overpower enemies, to empower yourself. As my daughter and I stood together at the kitchen counter, enjoying our individual versions of cheese latkes, I realized that on deeply testing days, sometimes all we can do is try -- one small action, as one person, believing in greater results and getting the chance to share your discoveries with one true friend.



Rachel's Quick Cheese Latkes

This recipe is quick and straightforward enough for your counter-height kids to make, with parental supervision. And the melting strands of cheese added on top as a garnish makes an almost-pizza cheesy latke experience. 



1 6-ounce box potato pancake (latke) mix

2 eggs

2 cups cold water

1/2 cup shredded cheddar/mozzarella mix

1/2 cup vegetable oil for frying



In a medium bowl, beat eggs. Add water and mix well. Stir in package mix and add cheese. Let rest five minutes. Stir again.

In large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking.

Working in batches, drop heaping tablespoons of batter into hot oil. Flatten with the back of a slotted spatula. Brown on each side, (about one minute) until golden brown.

Using slotted spatula, transfer latkes onto paper towel to drain. Add more oil to skillet if needed, allowing to heat before adding more batter.

Transfer to plates and serve.

Serving Suggestions: Serve warm with garnish of shredded cheese, and side dish of applesauce.

Serves 15-18 latkes.



Instant Feta Walnut Latkes

These are so flavorful, they would be wonderful as an appetizer, with cold sliced pears and, of course, lots of wine.



1 6-ounce box potato pancake (latke) Mix

2 eggs

2 cups cold water

1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled into tiny chunks

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

1/2 cup vegetable oil for frying



Place walnuts in a single layer on a baking pan and place in 350 F oven.

At about three to four minutes, shake pan to make sure the nuts toast evenly and continue to bake until they are lightly toasted and aromatic, approximately six to 10 minutes. (Hint: Be sure and watch carefully because nuts burn quickly.) Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs. Add water and mix well. Stir in package mix and let rest five minutes. Add walnuts and crumbled cheese and stir again.

In large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking.

(I found the frying of these latkes worked best with slightly less oil then traditional potato latkes.)

Working in batches, drop heaping tablespoons of batter into hot oil. Flatten with the back of a slotted spatula. Brown on each side (about one minute), until golden brown. Using slotted spatula, transfer latkes onto paper towel to drain. Add more oil to skillet if needed, allowing to heat before adding more batter.

Transfer to plates and serve.

Serving Suggestions: Serve warm with sliced pears or a chunky applesauce.

Serves 15-18 latkes.  

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