At sundown tonight, Jewish people all over the country will begin celebrating Hanukkah, which is also known as the Festival of Lights. More than menorah lighting and dreidel spinning, Hanukkah is known for its culinary delicacy, latkes. These fried potato pancakes are a symbolic and tasty treat during this Macabee-inspired holiday.
There are many versions of potato pancakes, and many ways to dress the starchy discs up or down. While grandma used to scrape her potatoes on a box grater, the advent of the Cuisinart made bruised knuckles a thing of the past. I have to admit that in the beginning of my potato pancake-making career, I used a box grater. But as my Hanukkah parties expanded throughout the years (I’m expecting at least 50 people tonight), it was more practical to switch to the Cuisinart.
There are also those who prefer shredded potatoes versus ground-up potatoes. In my opinion, using shredded potatoes results in more of a Swiss potato rosti feel than a true latke. Some people also get fancy with their ingredients and make latkes out of sweet potatoes, zucchini or carrots. Whatever works for you, but I think you can’t go wrong with potatoes, onions, eggs, and matzo meal. (Oh, and don’t get me started on the price-gouging that goes on during the holidays for matzo meal.)
Then there are the condiments. Typically, latkes are served with either sour cream or applesauce. (My father even sprinkles sugar on top of his.) I invigorate my sour cream by adding fresh chopped dill, which gives it nice color, flavor, and depth.
Latkes are best served piping hot, so I save the frying process for last. Don’t be afraid to use a lot of oil (I prefer to use peanut oil for its high smoking point), which will keep your potato pancakes crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Below, my tried and true latke recipe, which I modified from my Grandma Blanche.
Potato Pancake Recipe
(Yields 40 small potato pancakes)
5 Idaho potatoes (peeled)
1 onion (peeled)
1 cup matzo meal
1 teaspoon salt
1 bottle peanut oil
Sour cream and/or applesauce as garnish
Cut peeled potatoes into fourths. Cut peeled onion into fourths. Put half of the potatoes and half of the onions in a food processor and grind until you achieve a pulpy consistency (about 30 seconds on high). If you do not have a food processor, grate by hand on a box grater. Scrape the mixture into a bowl, and process the remaining potato and onion pieces.
Once all the potatoes and onion have been ground up and mixed together in a bowl, add the eggs, matzo meal, and salt. Stir well.
Heat a large frying pan with a generous amount of peanut oil. It should be at least an inch thick. Have the burner on medium heat. Tip: It's quicker to fry up two batches at a time in two frying pans.
Spoon the potato mixture into the hot oil. You should be able to fit four pancakes at a time. Don't overcrowd the frying pan. Cook the pancakes about three minutes on each side. The oil should be bubbling, but not smoking.
Place the finished pancakes on a plate or tray lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Serve immediately. These will keep for 3 days in the fridge. Reheat in 350 degree oven.
Jacquelynn D. Powers is a writer based in Miami Beach. Her work has appeared in the Miami New Times and slashfood.com. Prior to that, she was the Senior Editor of Ocean Drive magazine for over a decade.