It's a long-standing, well-documented tradition that American Jews go out for Chinese food on Christmas. In fact, a Borscht Belt-worthy joke about the practice even made it into the record of the Senate Judiciary Committee. There are many theories as to why, but they all generally acknowledge this basic fact: Chinese restaurants tend to be open on Christmas. And so, for many American Jews, memories of December are scented with egg rolls as much as pine boughs. So why not bring Chinese flavors into the classic Hanukkah potato pancake as well?
For the record, I still love me a classic latke — the ones that taste of nothing but potatoes, onions, and salt (and, you know, oil). But I also love me a good scallion pancake. And so, for this Hanukkah (which, to my utter surprise, begins in a week), I've combined the two. Behold the scallion latke. With rice vinegar sour cream.
These latkes still have that deliciously fun French-Fries-for-dinner oily air of a standard potato pancake. But then it gets a bit more interesting. There are a few bunches of fresh scallions, both whites and greens, and some fresh garlic and ginger (not found in the traditional scallion pancake, but common in Chinese cuisine and brilliant at cutting through the oil). The fried pancakes are served with sour cream that's been further soured with the tang of rice wine vinegar, and topped with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and soy sauce (and a garnish of scallions because, well, why not). It's a delicious way to combine the best of these culinary traditions.
And in other news of cozy winter traditions, here's a recent story on the history of weaving with dog fur. Yes, you heard me. You can listen over at the Northwest News Network.
Scallion Latkes with Rice Vinegar Sour Cream
yields ~3 1/2 dozen small latkes
I'm always a favor of frying latkes in advance, so that you can actually sit down and enjoy them with your dining companions (and, if you're entertaining, you don't greet your guests with a house that smells of fry oil). I also think that the rest and reheat lets them cook a bit more evenly, and some of the oil comes out in the oven. Just make the latkes in advance as directed, let cool, and transfer to a sealed container in the freezer (you can layer with paper, or else par-freeze and then toss in freezer bags). Bake on a rimmed sheet, straight from the freezer, at 375° Fahrenheit until sizzling and starting to color a bit more.
2 large bunches scallions, finely minced (set a few spoonfuls aside to garnish the finished latkes)
8 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2—3-inch knob fresh ginger, grated
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup matzo meal
1-2 cups high-heat oil for frying
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
toasted sesame oil
Line a strainer with a large piece of cheesecloth or a loose-weave dish towel, and place in the sink or over a bowl. Shred half of the potatoes on the coarse holes of a box grater, and place the shreds in the lined strainer (if you have a food processor with a shredding disk, use that instead, then place about 1/4 of the shreds back in the bowl with a chopping blade, and pulse a few times to yield smaller bits that will help bind).
Pick up the ends of the dish towel or cheesecloth and gather it around the load. Twist and squeeze to wring as much liquid as possible from the mixture, twisting further as more liquid is released. When it's as dry as possible, place the wrung-out mixture in a large mixing bowl. Repeat with the remaining potatoes.
Add the scallions, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, eggs, sesame oil and matzo meal to the potatoes, and stir well to combine. Pour the oil into frying pans to a depth of 1/2 inch, and heat over a medium-high heat until a shred of potato sizzles when dropped in. Shape three tablespoons of the latke mixture into a round shape (I like to pack a 1/4 cup measure three-quarters full) and place in the oil. Flatten slightly to form a small pancake. Repeat as many times as your pan space allows. Cook the latkes until they're well-browned, 5 to 7 minutes, then flip and brown the other side (play with the heat if it's taking much more/less time). When the second side has cooked, place on a plate lined with brown paper or paper towels, stacking with additional paper or paper towels as needed.
To serve, stir the rice wine vinegar into the sour cream (taste, and add more if you favor a bit more tang). Top each latke with a dollop of the tangy sour cream, a small drizzle of soy sauce and/or sesame oil, and a sprinkling of the reserved scallions. Serve.