Chanukah Gifts & Food: Fire up your latkes with pungent toppings

Here’s a fresh twist for the Chanukah table, without intruding on your latke loyalties.

How about switching the toppings? You can always have the usual applesauce and sour cream on hand, but consider adding some intrigue and savory twists — in addition to sneaking in vegetables, herbs, nuts and olive oil — to the options on the menu. Add some lentil soup and a green salad, and your Chanukah celebration will be colorful and compelling.



Yields about 2/3 cup

Chimichurri sauce photo/wikimedia commons

Chimichurri, the “national sauce” of Argentina, is also common in Honduras and other Latin American countries. It’s a complex green paste, similar to a pesto, but containing a greater variety of herbs, and a tart taste from the presence of vinegar.

Chimichurri is normally served with roasted or grilled meat or fish, but it’s also delicious on cooked potatoes and vegetables, pasta, grains and sandwiches. It’s also a terrific dab of flavor for latkes — either directly on top, or as a green dollop on the sour cream.

1 cup (packed) minced cilantro

1⁄4 cup (packed) minced parsley

1⁄4 cup minced scallions

1 Tbs. minced fresh oregano (or 1 tsp. dried oregano)

1 tsp. minced or crushed garlic

Big pinch of cayenne

2 Tbs. red wine vinegar

1⁄4 tsp. salt

6 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

Place the cilantro, parsley, scallions and oregano in a food processor, and mince finely. Add the garlic, cayenne, vinegar, salt and process to a paste, with the food processor running until everything is fully incorporated. Drizzle in the oil at the very end. Transfer to a tightly lidded container and refrigerate until use. (Will keep for a week or two if stored in a tightly lidded container in the refrigerator.)


Chipotle Cream

Yields 1 cup

Chipotle chilies are smoked dried jalapenos. They most commonly come in cans, packed in a vinegar preparation called adobo sauce. A little bit of canned chipotles-in-adobo goes a very long way, both in terms of its heat and its powerful smoky essence. In this sauce, sour cream and/or yogurt create a soothing, luxurious vehicle for the chipotle flavor. 

1 cup sour cream or yogurt (or a combination)

1⁄2 to 1 tsp.canned chipotle chilies, finely minced

Place the sour cream and/or yogurt in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisk in 1⁄2 tsp. minced chipotles, and let it sit for about 10 minutes, so the flavor can develop. Taste to see if it needs more chipotle paste, and adjust as desired. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.


Red Pepper-Walnut Paste

Yields 3 to 4 cups

Based on the Middle Eastern sauce called muhammar, this delicious paste is simultaneously pungent, slightly hot and sweet. I make it often and keep it around for many uses: as a topping for pilafs and other cooked grains, for spreading on pizza, toast, crackers and sandwiches, and as a dip for cooked or raw vegetables. I also love it on latkes.

2 heaping cups lightly toasted walnuts or almonds

2 to 3 medium cloves garlic

One 12-oz. jar roasted red peppers, drained

1 Tbs. cider vinegar

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1⁄4 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. honey or agave nectar

1 tsp. salt (or to taste)

Black pepper and cayenne to taste

Place the walnuts and garlic cloves in a food processor and pulse until they are finely ground, but not yet a paste. Cut the peppers into chunks, and add them to the food processor, along with the vinegar, lemon juice, cumin and honey. Process to a fairly smooth paste, then transfer to a bowl and season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. (Keeps well for at least a week if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  In fact, the flavors deepen over time.) n

Mollie Katzen is a Berkeley-based chef and the author of the “Moosewood Cookbook” and other cookbooks.