Multi-taskers, rejoice! Hanukkah, that least predictable of holidays, falls this year in the same general time frame as Christmas. But with this simplification comes the greater peril of holiday feasts. In one sense, cooking for Hannukah is an easier task than most. If you go to Whole Foods in the next eight days, you’ll notice there’s an entire aisle devoted to Hanukkah, with its bounty of brands selling matzos (politically incorrectly), jarred gefilte fish, unpleasantly-colored candles and more. But you’ll also notice that the majority of food sold in this aisle will consist of some kind of mix. You may be thinking to yourself “But how can I possibly go wrong? Surely one flour-cornmeal just-add-water mix is as good as another? But beware, recent converts and other people not yet attuned to the nuances of the religion. Latke mixes are not like pancake mix–there is a definite hierarchy. But don’t worry, we’re here to see you through with a few simple tips:
1. Steer clear of Streit’s
This is controversial advice to some. Streit’s has existed as the staple brand for boxed Jewish meals pretty much since the dawn of the religion. But their latke mix leaves something to be desired. It’s the difference between eating real mashed potatoes and army mashed potatoes–a difference you can definitely taste.
2. Do NOT attempt to make your own
I’m aware I just made a remark about how real potatoes are better than powdered ones. There is one exception to this rule. If you try your hand at making your own latkes, I guarantee it will end up a stringy, disjointed, authentic-tasting mess–and in the true spirit of Judaism, you can pat yourself on the back and assure yourself that you are suffering for God.
3. Steer clear of Manischewitz
Again–a trusted brand in sweet wine and matzos takes a sharp dip in the latke department. The uncreative design of the box should make this rule intuitive, or at least easy to remember.
4. Search for the Carmel brand, no matter how far back behind the shelves it’s hidden.
Carmel latkes not only win the prize for best designed box, but they happen to be the most delicious option. They’re like the Sunbeam equivalent of latkes–completely false and made of nothing that could possibly benefit your longterm health, but they deliver that hug of golden, fried satisfaction every time.
Choose with discretion, and keep in mind–the festival of lights, unlike pretty much every other Jewish holiday, doesn’t have to be about suffering. At least, not for your palate.