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Fry a Little Tenderness

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Everybody needs a little latke now and then -- even when Hanukkah is not just around the corner. The Yiddish word for "pancake" is also a lesson in how the simplest things can be divine. I would venture to say that the latke, a grated onion and potato patty fried up in a pan, can hold a serious candle to the ubiquitous french fry, and probably kick diner home fries in the pants.

All it takes is a grater, a few inches of oil and enough salt to create the phenomenon that everyone loves about fried potatoes -- crispy on the outside, melty on the inside. Complete the magic circle with a small batch of homemade applesauce, which can be made practically with your eyes closed, to help cut the fat of the fry on your tongue.

This year's Jewish festival of lights actually coincides with Christmas Day, just after Santa has left town. With a few weeks to go, there's plenty of time to practice and understand that latkes aren't just for Hanukkah anymore.

Potato Latkes

The recipe below is more of a guideline with approximate amounts. I prefer the crunch of bread crumbs to matzoh meal, for example, and I don't use flour, which you may see in other recipes. Feel free to experiment, but whatever you do, add gradually to avoid overdoing it on the binders.

3-4 medium potatoes (russet, Yukon Gold)

1-2 medium onions

Approximately 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs or matzoh meal

1 large egg, beaten

At least 1/2 teaspoon salt

Black pepper to taste

Approximately 1/3 cup oil (I like to combine olive and canola)

• Grate potatoes and place in a mixing bowl. Grate onion, drain off water and combine with potatoes. Do not drain potatoes. Add bread crumbs and egg, and with a wooden spoon, stir to combine. Add more bread crumbs if mixture seems too wet when formed into a ball. Add salt and pepper.

• Form small patties in your hands. Heat oil in skillet; when bubbling, add latkes and cook until brown on both sides. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Keep warm at 200 degrees in the oven. Serve with applesauce. Makes six side-dish servings.

• Note: Keep peeled potatoes in water until ready to use. Don't grate potatoes and keep in water; the result will be a goopy mess.

Holiday cooking questions? Check out Kim's blog at blogs.washingtonpost.com/seasonedgreetings.

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