Latkes are not just for Hannukah.
Everyone has their own Thanksgiving traditions. Growing up in our family, the turkey was not the star of the show. We were all about appetizers. Once, I asked Mamala how this all started and she couldn't remember, but at some point two appetizers turned into 20 and it took on a life of its own. We used to stay up all night before Thanksgiving and make: chopped liver, herring in sour cream, herring in tomatoes, herring in vinegar, clam poppers, rumaki, stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs, vegetable trays, three kinds of rye bread, Japanese pickled radish, olives, cornichons, stuffed celery, liptauer (an Austrian favorite), Boston brown bread, and a pistachio pudding-green jello-cottage cheese-fruit cocktail-mayo-7-UP mold (it was the '70s, believe it was called Watergate Salad). Of course, little-girl me disliked all the appetizers we made, except black olives. Thank goodness I was allowed to stick them on my fingers.
So much time. energy and stomach space was spent on appetizers that we rarely ate our turkey and sides on Thanksgiving. If we did, it was at 10:00pm or the next day.
We've had many memorable Thanksgivings. My brother Mike had an epic Thanksgiving-Hannukah reunion in 2004. My Chicago family has hosted many extraordinary Thanksgiving reunions. We also had a beautiful yet bittersweet Thanksgiving with family and friends two weeks before my Mamala passed away in 2011.
There is always that one Thanksgiving that my family always laughs at: 1979. My father passed away that September and it was the first holiday without him. I had recently started college and my older brother Mike, a sophomore at Oregon State, thought it would be a nice idea to invite a married foreign-exchange couple from Korea to a traditional American Thanksgiving.
Mamala and I decided that we would forgo the appetizers and focus on the traditional turkey dinner. We worked feverishly all week cleaning the house, shopping, cooking, and decorating. Thanksgiving morning I put a 25-pound turkey in the oven and got to work on the rest of the feast. Did I mention we had a dog (part wolf, unbeknownest to us at the time), at the time. His name was Blitz.
[Ed. Note: Good lord I do not like where this is going.]
Mike arrived with the Korean couple around noon, and they arrived in the most gorgeous traditional Korean attire, a hanbok en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanbok. They looked spectacular, were polite and gracious beyond words, just downright lovely people. We spoke no Korean and they spoke no English, but we managed just fine.
Our holiday table was beautifully set with my Mamala's customary Thanksgiving cornucopia, complete with seasonal fruit, plus pilgrim and Native-American candles that she bought 16 years prior when my younger sister Julie was born.
The turkey was baking away. Intoxicating aroma. I might have even cut a little piece of crispy skin off the tail end and snacked on it. [Ed. Note: I'ma tell.] The kitchen and dining room were closed off. Guests were in the living room.
4:00pm, countdown to dinner. The turkey needs to rest for 20 minutes before carving, so that 25-pound bird was carefully placed on the counter, covered with foil, and I finally joined everyone else in the living room.
Suddenly, THUNK. Growling. Snarling. Chomping.
[Ed. Note: The horror. Slowly she turned, inch by inch, step by...]
My heart dropped. I raced into the kitchen with Mamala close behind. There was Blitz with the turkey on the floor, devouring a leg and starting on the precious white meat. He hissed, growled, and bared teeth as I tried to reach for the bird. I grabbed a broom handle and tried to grab what was left of the turkey. His jaw dripped with coveted turkey juices. It was a scene out of Cujo.
[Ed. Note: Getting Stephen King's agent on the phone.]
By the time I could grab the turkey, it was mostly carcass with a little meat dangling on bone. What was once a meal for eight was soup stock. Mamala and I stared at the carcass, a beautiful turkey five minutes ago. We stared at the dog, who was beaming. Once our shock subsided we had no idea what to serve for dinner.
Meanwhile in the living room...Mike has said he never forgot the look on our guests' faces as they heard these psychotic masticating sounds emanating from the adjacent room. Like the proper Midwesterner my Mamala was raised to be, we of course never said a word to them about what transpired in the kitchen, and pretended like nothing happened.
Long story short, we ended up having all vegetarian side dishes for Thanksgiving that year. The Korean couple could not have been more gracious. They enjoyed the meal and we all had a blast. It was an unforgettable holiday and brings a smile to my face every time I think of it.
This Thanksgiving, consider making latkes for your vegetarian guests so they will not have to sustain their hunger on side dishes alone.
Adapted from: Food and Wine, November 2012
Number of servings: 4 dozen mini latkes
I'm Jacquie, personal chef & recipe developer in the bay area. Living life with my wildly funny boyfriend and dog Marlowe. Lover of books, bourbon, chocolate and movies.