Sharing Some Latke Love
Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, happens to coincide with Christmas this year. I love when this happens because everyone is in the spirit of the holidays and if you are lucky, you will get to eat traditional foods at many different tables for both celebrations.
The tradition of eating potato pancakes, or latkes, dates back to the 1800’s in Eastern Europe. Part of the Hanukkah story tells us about a small amount of oil that miraculously provided fuel for the flame inside the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem where an eternal light burned before the destruction. The oil lasted for eight days and, in the fairly typical way of my people, we have turned this into a food tradition and permission to deep fry, mostly in olive oil and eat fried food for…you guessed it…eight days. The traditional latke (recipe below) can be served with a savory (sour cream) or sweet (applesauce) accompaniment, or if you are indecisive like me, a bit of each.
For those of you who are true Foodie Freaks, the original latke is derived from an Italian dish that uses ricotta cheese and a connection was made between those and Hanukkah as far back as the 1200’s, so I say bring out the cheese!
The good news is that latkes can also be baked instead of fried, and latkes are no longer the sole domain of the plain potato. Oh, and as a side note – you can use Russets or Yukons; either one is just fine. This, like most things, is a hotly debated topic but having used both, I don’t find much of a difference.
Let’s start with the good old greasy latke like your Bubbe (grandmother) made. This recipe from Epicurious is as close to the family recipe as you can get. I will just add that we forgo the soaking as the potatoes are watery enough, and the more water you can wring out of the potatoes before frying, the better!
I know, I know. You are still thinking about those ricotta latkes, right? I don’t blame you. It’s traditional to eat dairy on Hanukkah too so I say bring it on! Here’s how Tory Avey, the Shiksa in the Kitchen makes them: (and she gets the photo credit for the original latkes t00!)
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- ¾ cup flour
- 3 large eggs
- 2 tbsp granulated white sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp baking powder
- Nonstick cooking oil spray, for frying
- Combine all ingredients except the nonstick oil in a food processor. Process the mixture for about 45 seconds, pausing a couple of times to scrape the sides, until the mixture forms a thick batter.
- Spray a skillet with nonstick cooking oil and heat over medium. Use a spoon to scoop up the batter, then pour it onto the hot skillet in the size/shape of silver dollar pancakes. Use 1-2 tablespoons of batter per pancake. Spread the batter out into a thin circle after it hits the skillet.
- Fry the latkes for 2-3 minutes on each side until they turn golden brown. Test the first latke for doneness and make sure it’s cooked all the way through; if the latkes are browning faster than they’re cooking, reduce skillet heat. Expect some variation in the shape of the latkes, they won’t form a perfect circle. Serve immediately.
- These latkes can be eaten plain or topped with a drizzle of honey. Other toppings include jam or preserves, sour cream, maple syrup, yogurt or agave nectar.
Yield: 16-18 latkes
If you are incline to experiment, you can try some other root vegetable substitutions for your potato latkes, or you can shred any combination of these with or without the potatoes and fry away! We’ve experimented with sweet potatoes, beets, turnips, parsnips ( yum) and carrots (yuck, but my husband love them).
No matter which way you mix them up, they are a great way to celebrate Hanukkah but they are also a delicious side dish throughout the year. I tend to get a little more liberal when it isn’t the holiday because my kids are suckers for ritual, and that is when I like to use curry or cumin to give them a little kick as a complement to a main dish that might carry some of the same flavors.
So, get your Latke on! It’s easy. It’s delicious. It’s the taste of tradition.
Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate!