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Lovin’ latke: Creative toppings for Hanukkah latkes

Jody Feinberg

When a holiday lasts eight days, there’s plenty of time to celebrate with both traditional foods and a twist on them. For Hanukkah, that means topping latkes – a potato-based patty – with more than just applesauce and sour cream.

“Most people just ask for sour cream or applesauce, but you can put anything on a latke,” said David Gelerman, owner of Butcherie II, a kosher food shop and catering business in Canton. “It’s sort of like cheesecake. Everyone likes plain, but there’s a lot of variations.”

You can add flavor to traditional toppings, by adding cranberries to applesauce or dill to sour cream. Or you can come up with completely different accompaniments, like caramelized onion with gruyere and thyme.

“We wanted to do something new and exciting within the context of traditional Jewish cuisine,” said Holly Safford, owner of Provender, a kosher catering company in Rockland. “Some people aren’t interested in anything that wasn’t made by their mother or grandmother. But others think, ‘Why not bring these wonderful, traditional foods up to the minute?”

Traditionally made with grated or ground potatoes, latkes are fried in oil – a reminder of the 2,000-year-old miracle celebrated by Hanukkah, which began last night and continues through Dec. 11. After the Jews reclaimed their Temple in Jerusalem after a battle, the temple light burned for eight days on a one-day supply of oil. In observance of this “miracle,” people today light a menorah, or candelabra, for eight nights, adding an additional candle each night.

While few people eat latkes all eight nights, many will eat them several times at home and again at a party. And they rarely eat them plain. Made of potato, egg and matzo meal or flour, they are eaten as a finger food and call out for a condiment.

“Potatoes are wonderfully enhanced by salty or sweet foods,” Safford said. “You can put a great deal of imagination to work and really have some fun with it.”

What you choose depends not only on your taste, but on the type of latke. Adventurous cooks prepare variations on the basic latke by adding shredded zucchini, carrot, apple, mushroom, artichoke, caramelized onion or scallion. Some use sweet potatoes, rather than white.

Although Provender has offered red fruit chutney and apple-onion compote toppings for a number of years, this season it introduces eight new ones. Among Safford’s favorite combinations is the potato-apple latke with herb goat cheese mousse. One of the most unusual is the yam with mustard seed and curry latke topped with ratatouille.

Beyond enhancing the taste, the condiments make the golden or light brown latkes visually more appealing. Stafford likes the color added by cranberry hazelnut conserve and red pepper and lemon confit.

“Put a dollop on top and it livens up the color palette,” Safford said.

Red also is the choice for Gelerman, who views latkes as a Jewish version of the French fry or the breakfast hash brown. As such, he likes his with ketchup.

Nancy Present, coordinator of special needs services at the Striar Jewish Community Center in Stoughton, dresses up her small hors d’oeuvre latkes with chive-oil infused sour cream topped with a little red or black caviar.

“Latkes need need something on top to give them a little bit of an umph, and this gives them the saltiness they need,” Present said. “It works beautifully and people really love it.”

She also tops the latkes with oven-roasted tomatoes.

“It’s a little unusual and looks more sophisticated than if you served them just with applesauce or sour cream,” she said. “I make them for a Hanukkah party and even when it’s not Hanukkah, because they’re such a good thing.”

Bold topping combinations dress up Hanukkah latkes Provender, a kosher catering company in Rockland, “wanted to do something new and exciting within the context of traditional Jewish cuisine.” It offers yams with mustard seed and curry topped with ratatouille.