Ditch the Latke and Try the Hush Puppy
It’s a question faced in just about every Jewish home come Hanukkah-time: How do we do latkes this year? Of all the things we could possibly make, it ends up being latkes every year. It’s as if we always choose to color with the same few crayons in the 64-color box. Maybe it’s time to use some of the other colors.
At the core of the Jewish approach to food is “mindfulness.” An observant Jew cannot simply walk into a chain restaurant and have what everyone else is having: Cheeseburgers (incorporating, of course, both meat and milk) are not remotely kosher. At a deeper level, kabbalah—the Jewish mystical tradition—teaches us to move toward a unity of our body’s eating (food) and our soul’s eating (glimpsing the divine). By focusing on what we’re eating and why we’re eating it, we can get in better touch with the order of things.
Of course one need not be an observant Jew or a kabbalist to enjoy the benefits of focusing on being mindful of what we put into the body and how it relates to larger issues. Take, for example, the issue of corn and monoculture. After a century of corporate agriculture, the corn in today’s supermarkets—whether sweet, flour or meal—is almost inconceivably less diverse than the pre-Columbian varieties of the North American or Mesoamerican Indians. And with the loss of corn varieties has come a loss of flavors. From a cook’s perspective, it’s like removing 9 to 10 of the colors out of a box of 64 crayons. Sound familiar?
Instead of the same latkes for Hanukkah, a new approach may lie at the other end of a search for some of those missing crayons: Hush puppies, the southern classic of cornmeal fried in the oil that is the essence of the Hanukkah story. Instead of using a mass-market product, make cornmeal from a company dedicated to values such as the use of non-GMO, heirloom corn and/or biodiversity (such as Masienda, Anson Mills or Bob’s Red Mill) the star of the dish. Adding shredded smoked chicken (or duck, if you prefer) mixed in with the batter elevates the hush puppies which sit on top of a classic remoulade sauce with a gremolata garnish.