Chef Bernstein modernizes Hanukkah dishes

NEW YORK Tue Dec 20, 2011 10:20am EST

Chef Michelle Bernstein poses at her restaurant Michy's in Miami in this undated handout photograph released to Reuters. In her book ''The Macy's Culinary Council Thanksgiving & Holiday Cookbook,'' the classically-trained chef who has won praise for the Latin cuisines at her restaurants Michy's and Sra. Martinez in Miami, shares recipes from her childhood. The Miami native spoke to Reuters in a story released on December 20, 2011, about her food memories of Hanukkah, the eight-day ''festival of lights'' which begins on Tuesday.  REUTERS/Gio Alma/Handout

Chef Michelle Bernstein poses at her restaurant Michy's in Miami in this undated handout photograph released to Reuters. In her book ''The Macy's Culinary Council Thanksgiving & Holiday Cookbook,'' the classically-trained chef who has won praise for the Latin cuisines at her restaurants Michy's and Sra. Martinez in Miami, shares recipes from her childhood. The Miami native spoke to Reuters in a story released on December 20, 2011, about her food memories of Hanukkah, the eight-day ''festival of lights'' which begins on Tuesday.

Credit: Reuters/Gio Alma/Handout

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Potato pancakes are still a staple but chef Michelle Bernstein also likes to reinterpret some of the Hanukkah dishes from her Latin-Jewish upbringing to celebrate the holiday.

In her book "The Macy's Culinary Council Thanksgiving & Holiday Cookbook," the classically-trained chef who has won praise for the Latin cuisines at her restaurants Michy's and Sra. Martinez in Miami, shares recipes from her childhood.

The Miami native spoke to Reuters about her food memories of the eight-day "festival of lights" which begins on Tuesday.

Q: What is the one stand-out Hanukkah food to you?

A: "It's the potato pancakes absolutely. They were always, always on the Hanukkah table."

Q: What other Hanukkah dishes did you grow up with?

A: "It's funny everyone thinks of fried food. A lot of time my mother makes empanadas for Hanukkah dinner, which is very untraditional. She makes some of the best fried empanadas in the world. Sometimes her fried food would be the fried empanadas. Sometimes we do the Italian fried artichokes that they do in a lot of the Jewish ghettos in Italy. Sometimes we would do a creamy polenta with a braised oxtail stew over it. Gnocchis were also another one she does for Hanukkah. "

Q: Does she make a different dish for each night of Hanukkah?

A: "Those would almost be like a gift to us. So, instead of giving us gifts each night, it would be our favorite dishes."

Q: How do these family dishes inspire your restaurant menus this time of the year?

A: "My mother always plays around with birds. We always had goose or duck. I would like to recreate the flavors. She used to braise cabbage a lot with duck and goose especially. There would always be prunes in the sauce or stuffing which would be very eastern European. I would try to turn that into a fancy squab dish. Maybe some fancy truffle and some braised cabbage. It would be recreating what mom would make, but making it a little more upscale. Things like roast chestnuts are something that you see a lot of in Argentina, so I try to have roast chestnut soup over the holidays, which is just fabulous and it normally goes with foie gras and prosciutto ham."

Q: Do you tweak it a bit for Hanukkah?

A: "I try to make it more 'Jewish friendly.' I would use wild mushroom for the earthiness instead of using pork. I play around with a lot of things like that. I try very much to get into the holiday spirit and seasonality with the ingredients, which is not such an easy thing in Miami. But we try to keep up with it and trying to use a lot of the roast root vegetables which are always on the kitchen table of my mother's house."

Scallion Potato Pancakes (Serves 6 to 8. Makes 14 to 16 pancakes)

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and halved

1 yellow onion, cut into 6 to 8 pieces

1 large egg, lightly beaten

6 scallions, including tender green parts, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more if needed

Applesauce and sour cream for serving

For the batter:

1. In a food processor fitted with the grater attachment, grate the potatoes and onion. Transfer the mixture to a colander and press down firmly to remove all the excess liquid.

2. Transfer the mixture to a clean kitchen towel and roll it up tightly in the towel. Holding the towel over the sink and grasping one end in each hand, twist the towel to wring out as much liquid as possible.

3. Unwrap the well-squeezed potato-onion mixture and place it in a large bowl. Add the egg, scallions, flour and salt and mix well.

To cook the pancakes:

1. Line a rimmed baking sheet or large platter with paper towels. In a large skillet, heat the 1/2 cup vegetable oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers.

2. To form a pancake, scoop 1/4 coup of batter into the oil and press down on it with the bottom of the measuring cup to form a round cake about 3-1/2 inches in diameter and 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. Repeat to form more pancakes.

3. Cook, turning once, until golden brown on both sides and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Using a slotted spatula transfer the pancakes to the towel-lined baking sheet, and tent loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm while you cook the remaining batter the same way.

4. Transfer the pancakes to a warmed platter and serve hot. Pass the apple-sauce and sour cream at the table.

(Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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