‘Top your own’ party gives latkes a lift

Brisket-topped latkes: not your ordinary meat and potatoes (Shannon Sarna)
Brisket-topped latkes: not your ordinary meat and potatoes (Shannon Sarna)

NEW YORK (JTA) — There’s nothing quite like that first night of Hanukkah: a platter full of hot, crispy latkes and the accompanying applesauce and sour cream. It’s classic, delicious and a beloved comfort food for so many American Jews.

But by the third or fourth night, I need a change of pace for my latkes. Or to be more specific, I crave some other toppings.

While I love dipping my latkes into a healthy serving of rich sour cream, I also relish serving meat with latkes, specifically pulled brisket. You can use any beloved recipe of choice. After the brisket has finished cooking and cooled, shred it with two forks.

Throw a “top your own” latkes party and make an array of creative toppings — like the brisket or spicy cranberry applesauce recipes offered below — or tell your guests to bring their favorites. It’s fun to see how creative people can get.

Some other potential latke toppings: grilled pastrami and mustard, sauerkraut, salsa, pickled jalapenos, beef chili and caramelized onions. The sky’s the limit.

12 medium-large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
4 small onions, or 1 medium-large onion, cut into large chunks
4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
3/4 to 1 cup flour
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1/2 tablespoon pepper
Vegetable oil for frying

Using the shredding attachment of a food processor or a hand grater, coarsely great potatoes, onions and garlic. Place in a large bowl.

Add flour, eggs, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly until completely combined. Allow to sit 5 to 10 minutes. Drain excess liquid.

Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Using your hands, make a small latke patty and squeeze out excess liquid again. Fry for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Remove from pan and place on wire cooling rack placed on a baking sheet, which you can place in a warm oven until ready to serve. Makes 4 dozen latkes.

This pulled brisket also makes for an amazing sandwich on a challah roll. You can cut the proportions in half, too.

2- to 3-pound brisket
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon freshly grated black pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon dried parsley
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 can beer
1 can ginger ale
1 bottle red wine
4 ounces tomato paste
4 medium carrots, cut into medium size pieces
2 onions, cut into quarters

In a small bowl combine salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and parsley. Spread dry rub on both sides of brisket evenly. Preheat the oven to 300F degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven or pot on medium high heat. Sear the brisket on both sides “until the smoke detector goes off.” Remove meat and set aside.

Using the remaining oil and “good bits” on the bottom of the pan, sauté carrots and onions, scraping the bottom until the veggies are soft, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir until thoroughly mixed.

Put the brisket back in the pan, and cover with the bottle of red wine, beer and ginger ale. Place the entire pot with brisket into the oven, and cook for at least 3 to 4 hours, until meat is completely tender.

When the meat is fork tender, remove the meat and set aside on a large cutting board.

Let the sludge rise to the top of the pot liquid and skim it off. Strain out the carrots and onions and using a food processor, blend them with 1-2 cups of the cooking liquid, then return the blended mixture to the rest of the liquid and simmer to reduce slightly.

On the cutting board using two forks, carefully shred the brisket into small strands. Add 1 to 2 cups of the pureed cooking liquid to the pulled brisket for additional moisture and flavor.
Serve in a large bowl and allow guests to top latkes, or spoon small amounts of brisket on each latke for a more elegant presentation.

Like it really spicy? Add more chilies or 1 tablespoon of Sriracha hot sauce for more heat.

6 apples, peeled and diced
12 ounces fresh cranberries
1 cup water
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons orange zest
1/3 cup sugar
2-3 small dried chilies

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan on medium-high heat. Bring to a low boil and cook for 3-4 minutes, until cranberries have softened and released juices. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes covered. Allow to cool slightly.

Place applesauce in a food processor fitted with blade attachment. Process until desired consistency. Serve chilled. Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.

(Shannon Sarna is editor of The Nosher blog on