Growing up in a Middle Eastern-Mexican home in Mexico City, Margot Alfie, a local chef who moved to the Atlanta area in 1990 and now lives in East Cobb, “cultivated a very unique culinary taste.” While living in Mexico, she said, “sometimes we had a Syrian meal, sometimes a Mexican one, but sometimes we had an absolutely delicious fusion of the two!” Alfie ate sufganiyot — traditional fried Chanukah doughnuts — at school in Mexico, but never potato latkes. When she came to the United States, she says, it was a culture shock seeing people, including her own children, eating those latkes with applesauce and sour cream.
Alfie admits that she likes to experiment with spices and ingredients. She shared many of her successful cooking tips, recipes and international food choices that incorporate oil — making them appropriate for Chanukah, a time to recall how the oil lamp in the Temple miraculously stayed lit for eight days.
As a member of Congregation Or VeShalom, Alfie suggested making a wide variety of international latkes for a synagogue Shabbat dinner back in 2019. Now we are sharing some of her best holiday recipes with you.
Makes 12 4” latkes
1½ lbs. baking potatoes (3 or 4)
½ medium white onion, peeled and quartered
1 large egg
1 jalapeno pepper (seeded, if you don’t like it to be too spicy)
½ cup packed cilantro leaves, then finely chopped
2 tbsp matzah meal or plain breadcrumbs
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 cup canola oil
Green salsa, red salsa or pico de gallo, table cream or sour cream when serving.
Prep: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven, heat to 300°F. Prep a baking sheet with a wire cooling rack, so latkes can stay warm and crisp. Prepare a paper towel-lined baking pan ready to receive latkes for draining.
Grate: Scrub the potatoes well, but do not peel. Cut each potato in half crosswise. Use the large shredding blade on your food processor to grate the potatoes, onions, and jalapeno peppers.
Squeeze: To get crispy latkes, the potato and onion mixture needs to be dry. Alfie likes to put a large triple-layer cheesecloth over a large bowl and twist and squeeze the potato and onion mixture as hard as she can through the cloth’s top. She continues until no more liquid comes out of the shredded potato and onion. In the large bowl, with the cheesecloth now removed, leave the liquid a few minutes to allow the potato starch to settle on the bottom of the bowl, and then pour off and discard the liquid, but leave the potato starch.
Mix: Use your fingers to mix the ingredients, not forgetting to add the potato starch, making sure the starch is evenly distributed with the mix. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Form: Use a ¼ measuring cup, a fish spatula, your fingers and a fork to form a flat 4” patty.
Fry: In a large skillet (10”), heat the oil until latkes sizzle immediately on contact. Fry until each side is dark golden-brown, about four minutes a side, making sure your latkes are not overcrowded.
Drain: Remove hot, crisp latkes from the oil and drain on paper towels. Serve or keep warm in the oven at 300°F.
Serve: Enjoy them with your favorite Mexican topping, like a good red or green salsa. Alfie said those of us who are of Mexican descent “would use a dollop of table cream by Nestle, but I know in America sour cream is the way to go!”
Here are some of Alfie’s recipes for other international latkes, using the basic Mexican latke recipe’s ingredients. You’ll find the process is basically the same once you do the grating and mixing.
Makes 10 latkes
2 medium sweet potatoes
⅓ cup coconut flour
Chinese five spice
Makes about 20 latkes
2 medium potatoes
3 red onions
½ cup packed cilantro and fresh mint combined
½ cup rice flour
1 cup garbanzo flour
chili peppers (quantity depends on one’s taste for spicy food)
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp Chaat Masala (Indian spice)
Serve with tamarind sauce or yogurt (can be bought at an international market).
Makes about 12 latkes
1 lb. potatoes
10 oz. persimmon or Asian pear
1 small garlic clove
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp mochi flour
Serve with crème fraiche and a sprinkle of turbinado sugar (available at grocery stores).
Since her grandparents immigrated to Mexico from Syria in the early 1900s, Alfie’s Chanukah menu might also include dishes like kibbeh, which she now makes ready to be fried or air-fried for takeout orders, sold by the dozen. These consist of torpedo-shaped cracked wheat dough stuffed with meat, then fried and served with tahini and salads. In Mexico, guacamole and salsa were added. Or perhaps she would suggest a Middle Eastern-inspired dessert called atayef, a Syrian dessert of fried pancakes stuffed with nuts and then soaked in orange blossom simple syrup. Alfie said, “these are perfect for Chanukah!” Her veggie latkes are also popular, not only during Chanukah but year-round.
She encourages cooks to be creative, advising they “use whatever you have in your fridge to grate to make veggie latkes. But remember to squeeze the liquid out of the mixture, especially if using squash.” Another Middle Eastern treat is ijeh, skillet-sized latkes made with ground beef or ground turkey instead of grated potatoes, adding fresh chopped cilantro, mint, and parsley to the mix. And although not latkes, Alfie suggests fried plantains, a Spanish omelet, or any veggie frittata to serve during Chanukah.
Starting to cook at a very young age (10 years old), Alfie credits her mother and grandmother as her teachers. She considers her youth in Mexico an “important part of my growth.” She still loves to cook and to connect with people through her food: “I enjoy sharing what I know and love it when people try new flavors and recipes.” During the upcoming winter months, for those who want to sample Alfie’s cooking, her driveway dining for small groups will be moving to the dining room inside her home.