Latkes and Huancaína Sauce
It wouldn’t be Hanukkah without two Peruvian dishes, papas a la huancaina and causa limeña, according to Faye and Yakir Levy. (1) This sentence, written by two California Jews who enjoy Peruvian cuisine, gave me reason to think about the Peru and Hanukkah.
It is the third of the eight days of Hanukkah and many people around the world are enjoying one of the traditional foods of the season – Latkes! While these potato pancakes have become a tradition handed down from grandparents, the festival of lights wasn’t always celebrated with these fried bits of happiness.
There is a Story here. It brings Jewish customs and Peruvian cuisine together.
In the Jewish world, Hanukkah (Januca in Spanish) is the celebration of the miracle in which oil lasted for eight days until fresh oil could be obtained for the re-dedication of the temple. It also celebrates the bravery of Yehudit (Judith) who enchanted a general in the Seleucid army. She got him drunk and beheaded him with his own sword. Because she used salty goat cheese that he washed down with undiluted wine, the use of cheese for the celebration of Hanukkah is also common. (2)
Those events took place some 2,200 years ago. Drawing on oil and cheese, pancakes became part of the celebration more recently.
The first connection between Hanukkah and pancakes was made 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, called cassola in Rome, to the Jews of northern Italy. Consequently, because they combined the two traditional types of foods–fried and dairy, cheese pancakes became a natural Hanukkah dish.”
The Peruvian potato joined this feast when it traveled to Europe on Spanish ships and, from there, spread across Europe. It became the cheapest food available.
As Tori Avery writes in her food blog, A Shisha in the Kitchen, cheese latkes were used for centuries before potatoes were brought to the scene. Potato latkes are a more recent Ashkenazic 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 made with cheese. (5)
Cheese and latkes and Peru. We can go a step further. It seems to me that Latkes would be perfect with huancaina sauce and an egg topping them.
Latkes are very simple to make. They are simply grated potatoes with a little added flour, salt and an egg mixed then fried in oil till they are crispy. I added a grated beet to a few of my latkes to give them color.
While I was preparing the potatoes, I also made a queso fresco (ricotta) to use in the huancaina sauce and was able to get aji amarillo paste at the local Latin market.
Here are the recipes I used for this Hanukkah dish.
About 3 lbs of Yukon Gold potatoes
A good pinch of salt (about a teaspoon)
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup bread crumbs
¼ cup flour
1 small onion
1 medium beet (optional)
Grate the potatoes into a large bowl. Grate the onion finely. Work quickly so the potatoes do not turn brown. Add the other ingredients. Mix. Fry pancakes in olive oil. Remove and drain.
1 gallon of milk
2 cups of heavy cream
Pinch of salt
¼ cup of lemon juice or white vinegar (I use lemon juice)
Bring milk to a simmer. Add lemon. Let sit until curds begin to form. Pour though a fine mesh cheese-cloth (or a clean white T-shirt). The curds are the queso fresco.
Huancaina Sauce (4)
2 Tbsp Amazon Aji Amarillo pasta (sold in Latin Markets)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 small onion, diced
1 ½ cup queso fresco
½ cup olive oil
2 hardboiled eggs
4 pitted Kalamata olives
Sauté the onion and garlic in the oil till they just soften. Add aji paste and continue cooking until the sauce lightly browns. Whip together in a blender with the queso fresco in a blender till smooth. Add a little milk to thin if the mixture is too thick. Serve over potato latkes with lettuce leaves, slices of egg, and olives.