The traditional Chanukah foods are fried, typically potato pancakes known as latkes and doughnuts. (The 30-second version of the Chanukah story is at the end of this post.) I love sweets and dream of making doughnuts someday. But latkes are the Chanukah ticket as far as I’m concerned. With applesauce and sour cream, a perfectly fried latke can transport you to places that French fries with ketchup never reach.
I use a basic recipe, fry the latkes, and revel in the results. As far as I’m concerned “no muss, no fuss” has no place in the lexicon of latke-cooking. Latkes definitely create mess, and you’ll have to fuss. But the results are worth it. A Chanukah latke fest is not supposed to be a fancy affair. I like to keep the rest of the meal simple. Stone Soup works well, especially because you can make it ahead and just heat up when you’re doing the latkes. Add a salad, a couple of accompaniments for the latkes (applesauce and sour cream are traditional) and let the latkes take center stage.
There are endless variations on the latke theme. How coarsely to grate the potatoes, how much onion to use, whether to add parsley or herbs, and whether to lighten latkes with additional egg whites are all matters of personal preference. Plus there are variations that stray even farther from the traditional – like using zucchini or other vegetables instead of, or in addition to, potatoes. As long as you use fresh ingredients, stay organized, cook the latkes thoroughly and drain them well, your latkes will be a triumph.
Servings – 12 medium latkes (3-4 servings) Cost
Ingredients (not including accompaniments such as sour cream and apple sauce)
- 2 eggs
- ½ small onion (less than ¼cup)
- 1 teaspoon salt and about ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons of flour or matzo meal
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- 3 cups potatoes, measured after grating. I prefer Russet (baking or Idaho potatoes) but also use Yukon gold or small red potatoes.
- Canola oil (about ½ cup) – Don’t be afraid of this much oil. After frying at a high temperature, I still had about half of it left.
- Cutting board
- Measuring spoons
- Food processor with large grating blade or hand grater
- 2 Bowls
- Large fork (for stirring) and spoon (for shaping latkes)
- Plate or cookie sheet (for draining latkes)
- Large frying pan with low sides
- Pancake turner
- Paper towels
- Wash or peel the potatoes. Peels are nutritious and I hate peeling, so I just rinse the outside of potatoes well and use them unpeeled.
- Cover the plate or cookie sheet with two layers of paper towels and set aside.
- Finely chop or grate the onion and mix it with all the other ingredients except the potatoes.
- Grate the potatoes.
I prefer coarsely ground potatoes, so the finished pancake has jagged edges that get crunchy when fried. If you prefer a more refined look, grate the potatoes smaller. Don’t worry if the potatoes have browned a bit or contain liquid – both will be removed during rinsing. Rinse the potatoes (after grating) and drain them thoroughly, 2 or 3 times, until dry.
I squeeze them with my hands after draining them, then place paper over the bowl and gently press it. This step is important as it eliminates some of the starch in the potatoes and helps keep the pancakes dry so they can fry well.
- Pre-heat the oil in the pan until it is quite hot, but not smoking. You can test it by putting a tiny piece of potato in- it’s ready if the potato immediately sizzles.
- Put the grated potatoes into the bowl with the other ingredients and mix. Spoon enough for a medium sized pancake and put in the pan. Press down slightly, so it’s not too thick. (Latkes need to heat all the way through and if they are too thick, they tend to burn on the outside before they are done on the inside.) Repeat for 4-5 latkes.
- Fry the latkes in batches in the pre-heated pan on medium-high heat. Leave plenty of room between them as they cook. (If they are too crowded, they won’t cook properly.) When the latkes are browned on one side, after about 4-5 minutes, turn them over.
When cooked on both sides, take each latke out of the pan with the pancake turner, tilting it as you remove it (holding it between the pancake turner and the fork or spoon), so that oil on the surface can slip back into the pan. Drain the latkes on the paper towel covered plate or cookie sheet. Let the oil come back to sizzling between batches and repeat until all the potato mixture is used
- If you prefer a less pronounced onion taste, fry the finely chopped or grated onion for 2-3 minutes in a small amount of oil (reserve any leftover oil for later latke-frying) until transparent, then add to other ingredients.
- Always make sure the oil is hot before adding the latkes to the pan. If the oil is not hot enough, it will be absorbed into the latkes instead of frying them.
- If you are serving more than 2-3 people, after the latkes have drained on the paper towel, you can keep them warm in a 350 degree oven on an ungreased cookie sheet.
- You can freeze leftover latkes or make them ahead of time and freeze them. After they are fried and drained, put the latkes on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet. Freeze until stiff, then take them off the cookies sheet and freeze them in a well-sealed (ziploc) plastic freezer bag. To reheat, place them on ungreased cookie sheet in a pre-heated 425 degree oven until sizzling (about 15 minutes – but watch them carefully, so they don’t burn.)
The Chanukah Story
In the period about 165 years before the birth of Christ, the Syrians ruled Judea where Jews lived, and forbade them to worship in their Temple. A small band of Jewish soldiers revolted against the Syrian rule and defeated a much better armed and larger Syrian army. After their victory, the Jews celebrated by rededicating their Temple. According to the story, although the Jews had only a 1-day supply of oil for the candelabra (menorah) on the Temple altar, it burned for 8 days. To celebrate that miracle, the holiday lasts for 8 days. Here is more detail on the history of Chanukah. Because Chanukah is not an English word, it is transliterated with many spellings, including Hanukkah and Hannukah. But the Hebrew has a slightly guttural sound, so I think it’s got to begin with “ch” in English.
Friday – Homemade apple sauce
Update on 2011-12-22 13:46 by motherwouldknow
If you want to see how the “other” traditional Chanukah food, Jelly doughnuts, are made, click here. Also some amazing statistics on how many doughnuts Israelis eat during Chanukah. Wonder how many latkes American Jews (and friends) eat during this holiday?