Christmas dinner is, to my small southern clan, so much more than the meal itself. The incense of midnight church services, the peals of (on my part) slightly off-key carol belting, the scent of evergreen and the gleam of soft candlelight — all these sensual scraps ultimately heap themselves into one lovingly unwieldy mass I associate with the crisp brown skin of a Christmas turkey. It’s with these images in mind that I turned, questioningly, toward famed Jewish Cookbook Author Joan Nathan. Publishing such hallowed Hebraic expositions of Jewish cook craft such as Julia Child Award-winning Jewish Cooking In America and recently released instant classic King Solomon’s Table, when it comes to the Chosen People’s culinary craft, Nathan is a vaulted authority. “What we know as latke is actually a relatively new addition,” she says. A product of the Eastern European heritage of Ashkenazi Jews, the latke’s earliest appearance stems from 18th Century Lithuania and Ukraine, and was brought to the U.S. by immigrants. And although we associate it with Hanukkah traditions, that’s not true all over the world. “For Sephardic Jews, more customary dishes include things like fried pastries,” Nathan says. Not a fan (or simply tired) of the typical potato-based latke? No problem! Much like the Jewish people, the latke comes with a fantastic range of variations, including a delicious, nutritious sweet potato version and (so good even your abuela will venture a bite) yucca-based versions, descendants of the influx of Jews into the South American regions, paired perfectly with a cilantro cream. Nathan stressed, however, that the most important portion of this holiday has little to do with a specific dish. “For most people, it’s not about the dish,” she concludes. “It’s about eating a Friday night dinner, lighting the candles with family and remembering that this is a time of liberation.”
Listen, we all love a good latke, but grease burns and potato peeling aren’t for all of us. We’re a time-strapped, entrepreneurial populace blessed with some of the finest restaurants in the country. Why should we schlep around the kitchen? For a fantastic take on this classic, Josh’s Deli in Surfside is a go-to for folks who’ve yet to experience the joy of a competently prepared potato pancake. For a more traditional take, Lots of Lox provides A+ appetizers in a niche New York-style setting. And any article about latke sourcing isn’t complete without mentioning the devastating disks served by MiMo hotspot Blue Collar.