Did you know that in addition to fried foods, dairy foods are traditionally associated with Hanukkah? For those of you who missed my post on the CNN Eatocracy blog, here’s a little background on why…
The custom of eating dairy foods for Hanukkah dates back to the Middle Ages, when the Book of Judith played an important role in the Hanukkah narrative. Judith was a celebrated Jewish heroine who saved her village from an invading Assyrian army. A beautiful widow, she plied the Assyrian army’s general with wine and salty cheese. When the general passed out drunk, Judith beheaded him with his own sword. The Israelites launched a surprise attack on the leaderless Assyrian army and emerged victorious. In Judith’s honor, we eat dairy foods during Hanukkah.
This is one of my favorite Jewish stories, right up there with Queen Esther and the story of Purim. It’s got every element– a brave and beautiful heroine, an evil villain, wine and cheese. What’s not to love?
Speaking of cheese and all things dairy, today I’m going to share with you a recipe for Cheese Latkes. These mouthwatering latkes are made with ricotta cheese. They have the same flavor as a cheese blintz filling in the form of a fluffy fried pancake. They’re fabulous, and every bit as appropriate for Hanukkah as latkes.
Of course we associate potato latkes with Hanukkah, but in reality latkes descend from Italian pancakes that were made with ricotta cheese. The first association between Hanukkah and pancakes was by a rabbi in Italy named Rabbi Kalonymus ben Kalonymus (c. 1286-1328). According to The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks, the Rabbi “included pancakes in a list of dishes to serve at an idealized Purim feast, as well as a poem about Hanukkah. After the Spanish expelled the Jews from Sicily in 1492, the exiles introduced their ricotta cheese pancakes, which were called cassola in Rome, to the Jews of northern Italy. Consequently, cheese pancakes, because they combined the two traditional types of foods–fried and dairy–became a Hanukkah dish.”
Potato latkes are a more recent Ashkenazi invention that gained popularity in Eastern Europe during the mid 1800’s. A series of crop failures in Poland and the Ukraine led to mass planting of potatoes, which were easy and cheap to grow. But before potatoes came on the scene, the latke of choice was cheese.
In honor of Judith and the history of Hanukkah, give these latkes a try. They’re super easy to make and they’ll melt in your mouth. Imagine cheesy blintz filling made into a fluffy little pancake. So creamy and delicious! Use full fat, high quality ricotta for best flavor results… if you’re on a diet, lowfat will work, too. Top them with a little something sweet like honey or agave nectar. Delish!
Gluten Free Note: I made a batch of these today using King Arthur Gluten Free Multi Purpose Flour in the place of regular flour and they turned out great! The only difference was they took a bit longer to brown. Otherwise, they were great– they tasted amazing! The King Arthur product has a kosher hechsher, too. Score! 🙂
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- 1 cup high quality whole milk ricotta cheese
- 3/4 cup flour
- 3 large eggs
- 2 tbsp granulated white sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- Nonstick cooking oil spray, for frying
Combine all ingredients except the nonstick oil in a food processor. Process the mixture for about 45 seconds, pausing a couple of times to scrape the sides, until the mixture forms a thick batter.
Spray a skillet with nonstick cooking oil and heat over medium. Use a spoon to scoop up the batter, then pour it onto the hot skillet in the size/shape of silver dollar pancakes. Use 1-2 tablespoons of batter per pancake. Spread it out into a thin circle after it hits the skillet.
Fry the latkes for 2-3 minutes on each side until they turn golden brown. Test the first latke for doneness and make sure it’s cooked all the way through; if the latkes are browning faster than they’re cooking, reduce skillet heat. Expect some variation in the shape of the latkes, they won't form a perfect circle. Serve immediately.
These latkes can be eaten plain or topped with a drizzle of honey. Other toppings include jam or preserves, sour cream, maple syrup, yogurt or agave nectar.