Latkes are delightful dish all year
Anyone who has dined in one of my restaurants, read one of my books or articles, seen me on TV, or cooked or eaten with me personally knows that I think of the whole world as my pantry.
I love discovering ingredients and ways of cooking them that are new to me, and then mastering and sharing them with others. In the process, I'll often combine influences from various countries and ethnicities into one dish, creating original recipes in a process sometimes referred to by the contemporary term of "fusion" cuisine, which came into use in the 1970s. (Even though you could argue that fusion has happened throughout history, whenever food lovers have traveled and brought their discoveries home with them.)
But since that culinary term was first coined some four decades ago, maybe we have finally moved beyond fusion today. While national and ethnic cuisines will always remain sources of genuine pride for the places and peoples they spring from, and be cooked and served in homes and restaurants where authenticity matters, more and more people love to eat fusion-style in their daily lives.
All-American breakfast followed by Japanese ramen for lunch and pizza or Mexican for dinner. And maybe that breakfast includes grilled Italian sausage; sliced fresh jalapeños garnish the ramen; and crème fraiche and smoked salmon top the pizza, as they do in one of the most popular items from my menu at Spago.
You could say that today ethnic cuisines once considered to belong to a specific group of people now belong to everyone. And our lives are richer for that shared culinary heritage.
In that spirit, I would like to share one of my all-time favorite ethnic recipes: Jewish potato latkes, traditionally served at Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights that begins Dec. 22 and continues for seven more nights. Because Hanukkah commemorates a miracle in which one night's supply of oil kept the eternal light burning for eight nights in the rededicated Second Temple in Jerusalem, dishes fried in oil -- like these crispy potato pancakes -- feature prominently on holiday menus.
The wonderful thing about latkes, however, is they're perfect for other occasions and other family traditions and are endlessly adaptable as well.
Make a big batch to serve with your roast at the Christmas table. Or prepare little bite-sized latkes and top them with small slices of smoked salmon or other smoked fish such as sturgeon, whitefish, or trout, or some salmon or sturgeon caviar to make the most elegant Champagne-friendly appetizer for your New Year's party. Keep on making them, as I like to do, for a reliably delicious potato side dish all year long.
I wish you happy holidays. May you enjoy the bounty of an ever-expanding global pantry.