Say "potato latkes" and the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukah, immediately comes to mind. These crisp, pan-fried cakes of potato and onion are tangible symbols of the small pot of oil that miraculously burned for eight days in the Temple of Jerusalem 21 1/2 centuries ago.

This event, marked for eight nights with the successive lighting of each of the menorah's candles, commemorates a story of victory and celebration.

Syrians, under the leadership of Antiochus IV, had razed Jerusalem, sacked and defiled the Temple and turned it into a barn. Judah, leading a small band of Maccabees, took on the powerful Syrian army, defeated it and regained the Temple for the Jewish people.

The next step was rededicating the Temple (Hanukah means "rededication"), with the kindling of the eternal light that signifies the presence of God. But there was a serious problem. The Syrians had destroyed all but one cruse or pot of purified oil. The small cruse had only enough oil to burn for one day and it would take at least eight days to purify more. Miraculously the oil burned eight days and the festival of lights began.

Today, oil-cooked foods and pancakes signify Hanukah. Supposedly the pancakes hark back to the Maccabee women who prepared small cakes, then rushed them to their fighting husbands. Cheese and milk dishes are also associated with the festival. Judith, a young Maccabee, entertained the general of the Syrian army, plying him with dairy dishes and wine. When the overstuffed warrior nodded off, she killed him. His army retreated in confusion and Israel was saved.

The traditions of foods cooked in oil and milk-based dishes have expressed themselves in a variety of ways throughout the Jewish culture. From eastern Europe comes the potato latke, usually accompanied by tart, homemade apple sauce. The latke invites variation with spinach, carrot, zucchini or sweet potato. Mediterranean Jewish cultures seem to lean toward fritters fried in oil, often flavored with the nuts, spices and fruits connected with celebration in that part of the world.

You may have marked the first night of Hanukah last night with traditional potato latkes and been left pondering how to bring variety to the menu tonight -- and for six more nights. Following is a recipe for the time-honored potato latke, but also pancake recipes of great variety for each night of the remainder of Hanukah.

Some are traditional while others are free-wheeling improvisations on the pancake theme borrowed from many sources. For instance the corn cakes are a variation on a first course by French chef Marc Meneau (owner and chef at three-star L'Esperance Saint Pierre Sous Vezelay) that he tops with saute'ed hot foie gras. I've substituted shavings of fresh cream cheese sprinkled with chopped scallion. Good brunch candidates would be cottage cheese pancakes accompanied by a variety of stewed fruits, chutneys and jams; while zucchini crepes are excellent rolled up with slices of Nova Scotia lox. HELENA FELDER'S POTATO LATKES (4 to 6 servings)

2 pounds idaho potatoes, peeled

2 eggs, beaten

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 cups vegetable oil (approximately)

Shred potatoes on fine shredding blade of food processor or use regular shredding blade and then process shreds with flat steel blade, just turning the machine on and off quickly. Place in a kitchen towel and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Blend potatoes with the eggs, onion, salt and pepper. Using a large heavy skillet, heat about 1/4 inch of oil over medium to medium-high heat. Drop potato mixture by tablespoonfuls into oil (do about 4 at a time), spreading and flattening them slightly with the back of the spoon. Cook until deep golden brown on one side and then turn and cook until golden on second side. (It takes about 8 to 9 minutes.) Remove with slotted spoon and drain well on paper towels. Keep warm in a 200-degree oven. Serve as soon as possible as accompaniment to braised brisket or other meats or poultry. POTATO LATKES WITH SPINACH AND ONION (4 to 6 servings)

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (approximately)

1 large onion, sliced

12 ounces (2 medium) idaho potatoes, peeled

2 ounces fresh spinach leaves, washed and thoroughly dried

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Generous pinch nutmeg

In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over high heat. Add onion and quickly brown. Turn into a medium-sized bowl and cool. Shred potatoes on a fine shredding blade and then process shreds with flat steel blade, just turning the machine on and off quickly. Place in a kitchen towel and squeeze out as much moisture as possible and add to bowl. Stack 5 or 6 spinach leaves, roll up and thinly slice. Repeat until all leaves are reduced to thin shreds. Add leaves to bowl with eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well. In a large heavy skillet, heat about a 1/4 inch of oil over medium-high heat. Drop the mixture by tablespoonfuls; do about 4 at a time, spreading slightly with back of spoon. Cook about 3 to 4 minutes per side or until golden brown. Drain well on paper towels and keep warm in a 200-degree oven. Serve with meats or poultry. Done in miniature (by teaspoonfuls), these are good with drinks. PAN-FRIED CORN CAKES INSPIRED BY MARC MENEAU (6 first course servings)

1 1/4 cups fresh or defrosted and drained corn kernels

7 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 tablespoons whipping cream

1 egg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup water

Generous pinch sugar

4 to 5 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 pounds cream cheese

1 cup thinly sliced scallion tops

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (optional)

Place 3/4 cup corn in a food processor fitted with steel blade. Process just a few seconds or until the kernels are crushed but still chunky. Turn into a medium-sized mixing bowl and stir in the flour, cream, egg, salt, water, sugar and 1/2 cup corn. Let rest at room temperature an hour.

Shortly before serving, heat about a tablespoon of the butter in a large, heavy skillet (a nonstick lining helps here) over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoonful of the batter to the skillet, spread to about 2 1/2-inch diameter (you could do 4 at a time). Cook for a few seconds and then lower heat to medium low. Cook until pancake surface begins to look dry and edges are golden. Turn and continue cooking over medium-low heat until bottom is speckled with golden brown spots. Transfer to a baking sheet and slip into a 150-degree oven to keep warm while you cook the remaining batter. To serve, arrange 2 of the corn cakes on each of six plates. Top with thin overlapping slices of the cream cheese, sprinkle generously with sliced scallion tops and just a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Serve hot. ZUCCHINI CREPES WITH NOVA SCOTIA LOX (8 first course servings)

3 medium zucchini, cut into thin match sticks

Salt to taste

2 cups flour

2 small scallions, chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 eggs, beaten

2 cups water or as needed

Vegetable oil for cooking

16 slices Nova Scotia Lox

Spread the zucchini pieces on a triple thickness of paper towels, sprinkle with salt, cover with another triple thickness of paper towels and weight with a heavy chopping board or a baking sheet weighted with cans. Press for 4 to 5 hours.

In a food processor, combine flour, scallions, basil, salt, eggs and water. Process until just blended. Turn into a bowl and let rest for at least an hour. Once zucchini have been pressed for 4 to 5 hours and have given up all their liquid, stir into batter. Consistency should be that of whipping ceam. Heat two 6-inch crepe pans over medium-high heat. Brush with vegetable oil. Add about 3 tablespoons of the batter, swirling to cover bottom of pan with a thin film, pouring excess back into bowl. Cook until edges begin to curl slightly, turn and cook until bottom is covered with golden speckles. Transfer to a platter and lightly cover. Keep warm. Continue cooking crepes, using both pans. Place a slice of lox on each warm crepe, roll into a cylinder and serve as a first course. ONION CREPES WITH ONION-GARLIC MARMALADE (6 to 8 side dish servings)


2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 large onions, thinly sliced

Salt and pepper to taste

10 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 cups dry red wine

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 to 4 tablespoons cider vinegar

1/3 cup finely chopped toasted almonds


1 cup flour

2 eggs

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/8 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup coarsely chopped onion

1 cup water or as needed

Oil for cooking

To prepare the marmalade, heat oil in a large, non-aluminum heavy skillet over low heat. Add onions, a light sprinkling of salt and pepper and the garlic. Cover and cook, stirring often, for about 20 minutes or until onions are wilted and translucent. Add sugar and raise heat to medium high. Cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Use a wooden spatula to scrape up any brown glaze sticking to pan. Add wine, cinnamon and vinegar and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently, until almost all the moisture has evaporated. Taste for sweet-tart balance, adding more sugar or vinegar to taste. When mixture is thick, stir in almonds and cool. This can be prepared several days ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before spreading on crepes.

To make crepes, combine all ingredients except oil in food processor fitted with steel blade and blend until there are only small bits of onion. Turn into a bowl and let rest at room temperature about an hour. Check consistency of batter -- it should be that of whipping cream. If necessary, stir in a bit more water. Heat two 6-inch crepe pans over medium high heat. Brush with vegetable oil and add about 3 tablespoons of the batter, swirling to cover bottom of pan with a thin film, pouring excess back into bowl. Cook until edges begin to curl slightly, turn and cook until bottom is covered with golden speckles. Transfer to a plate, lightly cover and keep warm. Continue making crepes in both pans, until batter is used up. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the onion-garlic marmalade (enough to coat lightly) over each crepe. Fold in half and then in half again. Serve with pot roast, braised brisket or other meats. COTTAGE CHEESE PANCAKES WITH RAISINS (4 to 6 brunch servings)

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 cup sugar

8 tablespoons flour

2 cups cottage cheese

1/4 cup raisins

Butter for cooking

In a medium bowl, beat together the eggs, vanilla, lemon juice, sugar and flour until smooth, using a fork. Stir in cottage cheese and raisins until well blended. Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium-high heat. Butter lightly. Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls (about 4 at a time), spreading with back of spoon to about 2 1/2-inch diameter. Turn heat to medium low and cook 2 to 3 minutes, turn and cook on medium low another 2 minutes. Transfer to a platter and keep warm in a 200-degree oven. The pancakes should be a deep, golden brown -- slightly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Serve warm with stewed fruits, chutneys, jams and the following Winter Fruit Compote. WINTER FRUIT COMPOTE (Makes about 6 cups)

1 pound seedless red or green grapes

2 large bosc pears, peeled, cored and chopped

2 large granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small dices

1 small lemon, quartered vertically

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in a 4- to 5-quart, heavy non-aluminum saucepan. Cover and set over high heat. Once the compote comes to a simmer, partially cover and cook over medium heat (so that it simmers gently until grapes "pop" and the pears are very soft). Mixture should be thick. This takes, at most, about 30 minutes. Cool and serve with the Cottage Cheese Pancakes With Raisins (see above). The compote will keep up to 5 days in the refrigerator. BIMUELOS WITH ORANGE AND SPICE (Spanish Dessert Fritters) (8 servings)

2 ( 1/4-ounce) packages dry yeast

1 1/3 cups cold water

1 egg

1/8 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon allspice

1 tablespoon butter at room temperature

3 cups flour

Peel of 1 large orange, finely chopped

2 to 3 cups vegetable oil for frying


1 1/4 cups honey

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds, crushed in a mortar

In a food processor fitted with steel blade, combine the yeast, water, egg, salt, sugar, allspice, butter, flour and orange rind. Process 2 minutes or until very elastic. Turn into a large, lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about an hour). Heat the oil (it should be about 2 inches deep) in a large, heavy skillet to 370 degrees. Drop the risen batter into the hot oil by half tablespoonfuls (use a second spoon to scrape the sticky batter off the first). Do about 4 at a time. Fry until golden on one side. Drain well on paper towels. Once all the bimuelos are cooked, pile them on a large platter.

To make the syrup, combine honey, water, lemon juice and fennel seeds in a heavy saucepan. Boil for 3 minutes and then pour over the fritters. Let stand about 10 minutes before serving. CHEESE BLINTZES WITH CITRON (8 servings)

A slightly different approach to the blintz which could be presented in pools of raspberry pure'e.


1 egg

Salt to taste

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

3 tablespoons whipping cream

1/2 pound farmer cheese

1/2 pound fresh cream cheese

1/3 cup finely chopped candied citron


2 eggs

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt to taste

1 cup flour

1 cup milk

Butter for cooking (about 1 stick)

To make the cheese filling combine egg, salt, sugar, extracts and cream in food processor fitted with steel blade. Process until well blended. Add cheeses and process until smooth. Stir in candied citron. Chill until ready to use.

To make crepes, in a medium bowl whisk together eggs, 1 teaspoon sugar and salt until frothy. Stir in flour and then slowly stir in milk until smooth. Add a little water if mixture is thicker than whipping cream. Heat two 6-inch crepe pans over medium-high heat. Lightly butter them and then add about 3 tablespoons of batter to each, swirling the batter so it leaves only a film on the pan, and pour the excess back into the bowl. Cook until bottom is pale gold. Turn and cook only for about 10 seconds. Stack cooked crepes on a plate. You should have 16 or 17 crepes.

To assemble, place a generous tablespoon of cheese filling on the lower third of each crepe. Fold bottom of crepe over the filling and then fold sides over and roll up. Filled blintzes could be refrigerated, covered, for several hours.

Just before serving, heat about 4 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add 8 of the blintzes and cook until golden brown, turn gently and continue cooking until golden on second side (about 3 to 4 minutes per side). Adjust heat to keep from scorching. Repeat with second batch and serve hot.