At Middle Child, the Washington Square West luncheonette opened this year by Voorhees native Matt Cahn, the mornings often smell like hash browns cooking on the griddle.

It’s an aroma that can evoke memories of the cornerstone of a traditional Hanukkah dinner — latkes sizzling on the stove. Growing up, Cahn said, the Hanukkah celebrations with his parents, brother, and sister included all the holiday traditions — a dreidel, opening presents — but that when it came to the food, those fried potato pancakes were the most important part of the night.

Thanks to family recipes, latkes may also be the Hanukkah food with which home cooks are the least inclined to experiment, Cahn said.

“Everyone has their own latke recipe," he said. “You could try and mess with it, but when you get down to it, nobody wants that.”

So for Cahn, who recently whipped up a few festive dishes to add to a Hanukkah table, that means it’s all about the toppings. Behind the lunch counter of his 11th Street restaurant, Cahn suggested trying a breakfast-for-dinner spin on a latke, topping it with fluffy scrambled eggs, parsley, and a pile of pale pink lox. He added pan-fried capers to give the dish a briny crunch.

The finished product, with onions cooked into the latke, was his version of a “leo” — a traditional lox, egg, and onion breakfast offered at some Jewish delis.

“It’s kind of a throwback to that dish,” he said. “A fresher way to eat it."

At Middle Child, Cahn serves classic diner fare and food with modern touches, like a vegan hoagie that tastes like pho. One of the most popular menu items is lox, which Cahn and his team have been curing in-house since they opened. It’s a home kitchen project he now pushes others to try.

“It’s so easy. Nobody knows it’s easy," he said. "I tell people, stop buying it.”

Cahn buys his salmon from John Yi Fish Market in Reading Terminal Market, then places each filet on a bed of dill. He rubs it with salt and sugar, along with spices like white pepper and coriander. A sprinkling of lemon zest goes on top, and he then covers it with plastic and weighs the fish down with a plate. As it chills in the refrigerator over a few days, the salt draws out the moisture and forms a crust, hardening the outside of the fish as it turns into easy-to-slice lox.

“Jews smoke lox, but we don’t have a smoker,” he said. “So we serve gravlax.” The resulting fish, a traditionally Nordic dish, tastes bright, fresh, and a bit less salty than smoked lox.

Cahn recommended a few more tweaks to enhance traditional Hanukkah food without changing it too much. As an accompaniment to thick slices of toasted challah, he suggested butter infused with the salty, addictive flavors of everything bagels. Pre-made “everything” spice blends are now sold at shops like Trader Joe’s, but he said home chefs can easily customize their own using dried minced onion, sesame and poppy seeds, garlic, and toasted nigella or caraway seeds.

In fact, he said, making butter is also a fun project for families with kids to work on together — no wooden churn needed. All it takes is a mason jar, some heavy cream, and a small army of helpers to take turns shaking it. After 10 or 15 minutes, a solid lump should form as the buttermilk separates, and then seasonings can be added.

Cahn also prepared a riff on one of his father’s favorite dishes: kasha and bow ties, a hearty combination of grains and pasta often prepared simply with egg and chicken schmaltz. Cahn’s father, Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn, is a longtime devotee of the simple recipe as it’s prepared by Cahn’s mother.

“He thinks it’s the greatest thing that ever happened to him," Cahn said.

Inspired by a dish he recently had at Rittenhouse’s Res Ipsa Cafe, Cahn prepared his version with buckwheat, chicken broth and fat, and added grated beets and onions that he sauteéd in oil. The beets added color as well as a comforting, rustic flavor.

“I like kasha because it’s something that appears in a lot of cultures,” he said. The grain is a staple of dishes throughout much of Central and Eastern Europe but also in parts of South America. And, somewhat unlike latkes and butter, “it’s also healthy for you.”

Easy-peasy latkes

Makes about 5 large or 8 small latkes

INGREDIENTS

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled

1 medium Spanish onion, peeled

1 egg

2½ tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1½ teaspoons salt

Frying oil and/or chicken or duck fat

Optional for toppings: lox, scrambled eggs, pan-fried capers, fresh parsley, dill, chives.

DIRECTIONS

  1. Grate the potato and onion into a bowl using the large-hole side of a box grater.
  2. Using paper towels, dry the potato and onion mixture as best as possible.
  3. In a separate bowl, crack the egg and mix it lightly.
  4. Add the potato, onion, flour, baking powder, and salt to the bowl and mix.
  5. Form the mixture into flat rounds of whatever size you prefer.
  6. Heat enough oil in a pan (or a mixture of oil and fat) to almost cover the latkes.
  7. When the oil has a reached medium-high heat, place the latkes in pan.
  8. Cook until browned and then turn over, cooking the other side to match.
  9. Transfer latkes to paper towel to help soak up extra oil.
  10. Optional: top with gravlax (see recipe), scrambled eggs, and pan-fried capers, then season with fresh parsley, dill, and chives.

— Matthew Cahn of Middle Child

“Big-dill” gravlax

Middle Child luncheonette co-owner Matt Cahn shows how "easy" it is to cure salmon at home--creating gravlox in as little as twenty four hours. RACHEL WISNIEWSKI / For the Inquirer
RACHEL WISNIEWSKI / For the Inquirer
Middle Child luncheonette co-owner Matt Cahn shows how "easy" it is to cure salmon at home--creating gravlox in as little as twenty four hours. RACHEL WISNIEWSKI / For the Inquirer

Serves 5 to 7

INGREDIENTS

1 pound salmon filet (highest grade available, deboned with skin on)

1½ cup sea salt

1½ cup white sugar

4 tablespoons coriander, lightly crushed

3 teaspoons white pepper

3 teaspoons minced garlic (use minced and smoked garlic, if available)

1 lemon

1 bunch fresh dill

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine salt, sugar, coriander, white pepper, and minced garlic in a bowl.
  2. Zest the lemon and finely chop half of the fresh dill. Add the dill and lemon zest into curing mixture and mix well.
  3. Dry the salmon with paper towels and place it, skin-side down, in a baking dish or pan.
  4. Heavily coat the top, bottom, and sides of the salmon with the curing mixture.
  5. Cover the salmon with plastic wrap. Place  weight on top of the salmon using, for example, a plate with cans of tomatoes or bags of rice on top. 
  6. Place the salmon in the refrigerator and allow to cure for 24 to 48 hours, flipping and draining any liquid every 12 to 24 hours.
  7. Remove salmon from the refrigerator, rinse well, and dry.
  8. Finely chop the rest of the dill and rub over the outside of the salmon.
  9. Slice the salmon as thin as possible, discarding any blood-line or skin.

— Matthew Cahn of Middle Child

“Everything” butter

Makes just under 2 cups of butter

INGREDIENTS

1 quart heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted

1 tablespoon poppy seeds, toasted

2 teaspoons nigella seed, toasted (use caraway if nigella is not available)

2 tablespoons dried, minced onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1½ teaspoons sea salt

DIRECTIONS

  1. Pour cream into a 2-quart mason jar or into a few smaller mason jars.
  2. Put the lid on the jar(s).
  3. Shake vigorously for 10 to 15 minutes, until you see and feel that a solid lump of butter has formed, separating itself from the liquids in the jar (the residual liquid is buttermilk, which can be used for baking or other purposes.)
  4. Place the solids into a bowl and rinse a few times with cold water, while softy pressing the solids into a compact form. Set the butter aside.
  5. In a dry pan, toast the sesame, poppy, and nigella/caraway.
  6. Mix the toasted seeds with the remaining seeds, minced onion, garlic, and salt.
  7. Mix the spice mixture into the butter until fully incorporated.
  8. Serve on warm, toasted challah, or melt and pour over  freshly popped popcorn.

— Matthew Cahn of Middle Child

Kasha and bow ties

Serves 5 to 7

INGREDIENTS

¾ lb. dry farfalle

3 medium Spanish onions, peeled

1 large beet, peeled

5 to 6 tablespoons butter, chicken fat, or duck fat

1 large egg

2 cups buckwheat

3 cups chicken broth

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 bunch fresh dill

1 bunch fresh parsley

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain, and set aside.
  2. Grate beets and onions on the large-hole side of a box grater.
  3. Put about 3 tablespoons of butter or fat in a skillet and bring to medium-low heat.
  4. Add the beet and onions to skillet with a pinch of salt, and begin to cook.
  5. Meanwhile, beat the egg in a bowl.
  6. Add kasha to bowl and mix well, making sure all  the grains are coated with  egg.
  7. Heat another skillet to medium heat and put in the egg-kasha mixture. Stir frequently and cook until the egg has dried and the kasha kernels no longer stick together, about 3 minutes.
  8. As the kasha is just about finished toasting, transfer the beets and onions (which should be lightly caramelized by now) to the pan with the kasha.
  9. Reduce heat to low and add the chicken stock and salt to the pan.
  10. Cover and cook until all liquids have been absorbed, but do not allow the kasha to become too soft
  11. Add the pasta to the pan with  2 or 3 tablespoons of butter or fat. Toss together until farfalle has taken on a red color.
  12. Garnish heavily with dill and parsley and serve.

— Matthew Cahn of Middle Child