Latke-palooza at Spertus Institute

November 15, 2010 (CHICAGO)

(RELEASE) Chicago's favorite Kosher Chef, Laurel Frankel says it's time to give your latkes a makeover.

"I admit to being somewhat of a gastronomic and a culinary discontent. I like to push the envelope and play with an idea or recipe and then move on and do it all over again ," says Chef Laurel, executive chef of Spertus Kosher Catering, "The same applies to holiday menus. I love the rituals of the Jewish holidays and the foods, but I do not like the routine recipes that often accompany those dishes. This Hanukkah I am thinking outside the box and mixing it up a bit."

Chef Laurel says she loves the basic latke of potatoes and onions, all crispy and golden brown with the aroma of crackling onions and fat topped with a generous dollop of homemade applesauce or sour cream.

"I could eat a whole platter full of them myself - on the first night. And then what? We have eight nights to celebrate," she adds. "So I started thinking HOW COULD I MAKE THIS HANUKKAH DIFFERENT FROM ALL OTHERS?"

No ordinary Festival of Lights for this chef. She came up with something spud-tacular: a LATKE-PALOOZA. She calls it "an extraordinary celebration of crispy fried goodness. I am going where no chef has gone before. I am going to create an abundance of delights, a different one for each night of Maccabian Madness."

Latke options are infinite, she explains. "I can stick with the classic potato and onion cake as my base but I want to add some pizzazz, creating endless variations on the central theme," Chef Laurel adds. "After all, even the little black dress needs a little "bling."I am adding carrots, parsnips, celery root, roasted garlic, herbs, and more. These latkes will be so amazing we will want to add nights to the holiday."

The Chef also likes to play with the toppings. "After all, why limit ourselves to just plain apple sauce and sour cream?" she asks. "Like all classics that just need a little tweak, I am updating the humble applesauce and bringing it to new heights. For Latke-Palooza, I am dolling up the modest condiment with crystallized ginger, pomegranate molasses, mango chunks, and even sweet and gooey caramelized onions. Delish!"

Dust off your frying pans and potato graters because if you are like Chef Laurel, who loves the latke - but sometimes wish for more, check out her recipes for this Hanukkah and celebrate a Latke-Palooza in your home.

If your latkes need a little help, you can get some help directly from Chef Laurel, Executive Chef for Spertus Kosher Catering. She's hosting a Latke-Palooza demonstration at 6:30 pm on Thursday, November 17 at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies, 610 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago. Chef Laurel will introduce you to an array of latke possibilities, as she combines ingredients such as carrots, zucchini, spinach, and parsnips into eight different, delicious crispy treats. Sample her creations as you learn which oils to use, how to simplify preparation, and how to store and serve the finished products. Tickets are $18 ($15 for Spertus members); admission includes take-home recipe cards. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling 312.322.1773


Chef Laura Frankel is Executive Chef for Spertus Kosher Catering. Founder of the adventurous, gourmet kosher Shallots restaurants in Chicago and New York and author of Jewish Cooking for All Seasons, and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes she has made it her creative mission to re-imagine and revitalize the diverse--and delicious--traditions of Jewish cooking.

Visit Chef Laura's blog at and follow her on twitter cheflaura1.


Thursday at 6:30 pm

Spertus Institute

610 S. Michigan Avenue




From the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies,

This year Hanukkah begins at sundown on Wednesday, December 1.

What is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah, which literally means "dedication" and is often referred to as the "Festival of Lights," commemorates a Jewish victory in the struggle for religious freedom. It celebrates the victory of the Maccabees--a family of Jewish fighters and their followers--over ancient Greco-Syrians who had outlawed all religions but their own.

According to the Talmud (a sacred Jewish text), when the Jews were able to rededicate their Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the year 165 BCE, they found that there was only enough pure oil to light the Temple's candelabra for one day. A miracle occurred and the oil lasted for eight days and nights. For this reason, Hanukkah is celebrated over eight days. The holiday has gained visibility in modern times, and today is an occasion to recount history, exchange gifts, and spend time with family and friends.

Why does the Hanukkah holiday fall on different dates each year?
Judaism follows a lunar calendar, which means the cycle of the moon determines the lengths of the months. The lunar year has 354 days compared to the Gregorian/solar calendar that has 365. The eleven-day shortfall is made up by the addition of a "leap month" occurring seven times within each 19-year cycle. This keeps the discrepancy between solar and lunar calendar years at a minimum, but alters the dates of when Jewish holidays fall on the solar calendar.

Why is Hanukkah spelled different ways?
The name of the holiday is transliterated from the Hebrew to the Roman alphabet, so the English spelling is a phonetic representation of the original word. Spertus uses Hanukkah (also used by Encyclopedia Judaica and most current English dictionaries), but any phonetic spelling is equally correct.

Hanukkah terms

Menorah--The most important observance associated with Hanukkah is the kindling of the Hanukkah lights on the Menorah, or Hanukkiah, a nine-branch candelabra. On each of the eight nights of the festival one more light is lit, beginning with one candle on the first night and ending with eight on the final evening. The ninth branch is reserved for the shamash, the servant light, which is lit first and used to kindle the other lights of the Menorah. In its broadest sense, the Hanukkah lights symbolize the light of religious freedom won by the Maccabees.

Dreidel--A spinning top with a Hebrew letter written on each of its four sides serves as a mnemonic reminder of the phrase, nes gadol haya sham, or "a great miracle happened there." A game is played with the dreidel using candy or coins. Each of the four Hebrew letters - nun, gimmel, heh and shin - represent a value, indicating the number of coins or candies taken or given to the center sum. You spin until you win!

Latke--Potato pancakes, called latkes, are traditionally eaten at Hanukkah. The oil they are fried in represents the oil in the Hanukkah miracle. Other tasty treats fried in oil (such as donuts) are also enjoyed at Hanukkah.

Gelt-- Gelt is the Yiddish term for money. Giving gelt has long been a holiday tradition, although today the gelt often takes the form of chocolate candy coins. These are sometimes used to represent values in the dreidel game.

For more information about Jewish holidays, visit the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies website at


To help the celebration, Spertus, Chicago's center for Jewish learning and culture, has a shop stocked with Hanukkah gifts. The Spertus Shop at 610 S. Michigan Ave. has Hanukkah menorahs, dreidels, dripless candles, toys, hostess gifts, cards, books, jewelry, and chocolate gelt (even in dark chocolate--a Spertus staff favorite).

Here are some gift-giving ideas:

Laura Cowan magnetic slide menorah
The most important observance associated with Hanukkah is the kindling of the Hanukkah lights on candelabra called a Hanukkiah (more commonly referred to as a menorah). The menorah, by Israeli designer Laura Cowan, features a silver base with multi-colored magnetic candleholders that slide along the stainless steel curves. Its interactive design allows for the creation of a different arrangement for each night. $255.

A dreidel is a spinning top adorned with four Hebrew letters. The letters represent the phrase, nes gadol haya sham, or "a great miracle happened there." The dreidel is by award-winning designer Adi Sidler, a graduate of the world-renowned Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. $50.

Looking for something fun for the kids? A s 50-piece puzzle is exactly what you need. When completed the puzzle features one picture on one side, and a completely different image on the other. $12.95.

A perfect hostess gift or treat for the chef in your family, this laser-cut, stainless steel latke server dishes up everyone's favorite Hanukkah food! $6.95.

Lost all of your gelt in a heated game of dreidel? No worries, everyone wins with the witty Bloomsberry and Co. chocolate company's Gelt Bar. Made with all-natural, kosher dairy premium milk chocolate (34% cocoa), this bar is sweet treat everyone will enjoy this Hanukkah. $5.50.

The Spertus Shop is open onsite at Spertus, Sunday-Wednesday from 10 am to 5 pm and Thursday from 10 am to 6 pm. For Hanukkah, the Spertus Shop will be open until 6 pm Monday, November 29 through Thursday, December 2. (Spertus is closed Friday and Saturday). The Spertus Shop is always open online at Purchases support Spertus programs, helping foster Jewish culture and education.

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