(JTA) — When I married 55 years ago, I knew nothing about cooking. I grew up during war years in Europe when food was not available.
So my exposure to food, and particularly traditional food, was nonexistent. After I married, I decided to take cooking classes, first studying with chef Michael Field, author of the 1965 book “Michael Field’s Cooking School.” He realized that I had limitations because I never ate any of his meat dishes; I kept kosher. But he wanted to help and gave me substitutes and kept saying, “You can do this.”
From there I moved onto Chinese cooking and classes with Millie Chan, author of “Kosher Chinese Cookbook.” I also read many books and took notes. And as ingredients became available in kosher versions, I experimented. Equipped with all of this information, I tested and retested recipes to make them kosher and my own.
Now I am the author of three cookbooks, the most recent of which was just published this fall, “Helen Nash’s New Kosher Cuisine.”
For holidays, I must confess that I like traditional recipes, so it is a little unusual that I would attempt to change anything in a potato latke recipe. But since I also believe in nutritious, healthy eating habits, I had to find a way to improve on the tradition of frying latkes.
My challenge: to preserve the flavor of the fried potato pancake and at the same time to make it healthier, less messy (which frying always is) and more versatile. In other words, a latke doesn’t have to be just for Chanukah. It can also be a lovely side dish for fish, chicken or meat. It can even be a wonderful appetizer served with gravlox or as a small hors d’oeuvre topped with smoked salmon.
After many trials, I discovered that latkes can be baked with very little oil while still preserving their crispy texture and flavor. In addition, my recipe can be made in batches and frozen in plastic containers with wax paper between the layers. The fact that they can be made ahead of time is particularly helpful for Chanukah party hosts, who have so many other responsibilities.
My recipe requires the same technique of grating the potatoes and the same seasoning, but a fraction of the oil that normally is used when you’re frying potato latkes. The important element is that the cookie sheets should be of nonstick heavy gauge and the oven temperature quite high.
I’ve also included a recipe for roast capons with olives, which makes a great Chanukah dish if you’re serving a full meal. Capons have a subtly sweet taste that is quite different from chicken and turkey. The olives add an interesting flavor and give the sauce a delicious taste and texture. My family and friends — especially the olive lovers — always ask for second helpings.
Makes 6 dozen bite-size latkes
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, quartered
4 medium Idaho baking potatoes
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 large egg plus 1 large egg white, lightly whisked
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place an oven shelf in the lowest position and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Brush three heavy nonstick cookie sheets with 1 tablespoon oil each. (The thickness of the sheets allows the bottoms of the latkes to become golden.)
Pulse the onion in a food processor until finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl. Remove the metal blade from the processor and put on the medium shredding attachment. Peel the potatoes and cut them lengthwise into quarters. Insert them into the food processor’s feed tube and grate. Combine the potatoes with the onion. Add the flour, egg, egg white, and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and mix well. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.
Place 1 level tablespoon of the potato mixture slightly apart on the greased cookie sheets. Bake the latkes one sheet at a time on the lowest shelf for 11 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Turn the latkes over and bake for another 6 minutes, or until they are lightly golden.
Notes: Latkes can be baked earlier in the day and reheated. Arrange on a wire rack set over a cookie sheet in a preheated 350-degree oven until hot, about 6 minutes. The wire rack prevents them from getting soggy.
To freeze: Place latkes side by side in an airtight plastic container lined with wax paper, separating the layers with wax paper. To reheat, take them straight from the freezer and arrange on a wire rack set over a cookie sheet. Place in a preheated 400-degree oven until hot, 8 to 10 minutes.
ROAST CAPON WITH OLIVES
Makes 10 to 12 servings
1 capon, about 9 pounds
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup tightly packed flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, quartered
3 tablespoons unsalted margarine, melted
1 cup dry white wine
Preheat the oven to 350. Discard any excess fat from the capon. Rinse it inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Season the inside and out with lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Thinly slice one of the onions and set aside. Quarter the other onion and place it in the cavity along with the parsley and 1 tablespoon of the olives. Brush the capon with the margarine and place it on its side in a roasting pan. Scatter the sliced onions and the remaining olives around the pan.
Roast the capon for 35 minutes, basting with one-third of the wine. Turn the capon on its other side and roast for another 35 minutes, again basting with a third of the wine. Turn the capon breast side up for 15 minutes, basting with the remaining wine. Turn the breast side down for another 15 minutes. The capon is ready when the
drumstick juices run clear. (The total cooking time is about 1 hour and 40 minutes, or about 11 minutes per pound.)
Remove the capon from the oven and cover it tightly with heavy foil. Let it stand for 20 minutes to let the juices flow back into the tissues. Place it on a cutting board.
Pour the liquid from the baking pan, along with the olives and onions, into a small saucepan. Place the saucepan in the freezer for about 10 minutes, so that the grease can quickly rise to the top. (This makes it easier to remove.)
To serve: Skim off the fat and reheat the sauce. Discard the onion and parsley from the cavity. Cut the breast into thin slices and serve with the sauce.