Chanukah is almost here with all its fun and tradition and joy and deliciousness. I love Chanukah. I love the lights and the gifts and the candy gelt and the latkes. Ahhh, the latkes. What is better than latkes fried to golden, crispy perfection, topped with sour cream or apple sauce?
I’ve loved latkes since I first tasted them at my grandmother’s house. She used an old-fashioned box grater and grated dozens of potatoes into her huge wooden bowl. She then tied a dish towel around her nose and grated pound after pound of onions, added handfuls of salt and pepper, and some eggs. A good mix with her hands and then the smell of schmaltz melting in her large cast iron skillet filled the house. We knew that mountains of latkes would soon fill the table.
My many cousins and I decided that there was a definite art to choosing just the right latke. It could not be too thin or too thick, the ratio of crispy outside to creamy, onion-y inside has to be just right. The color had to be perfect — a deep golden brown. If the latke is too light, there would not be enough crispy outside.
The edges of a latke were important. The little strands of crispy potato shreds added even more crispiness to the latke, so trying to find one that had lots of those little strings around the edges was key. My cousins and I would rise on our knees on the chairs around the table and study the mountain of latkes before us. We would eye the best and go in for the kill. Sometimes, just as we were about to pounce, one of the older cousins would swoop in and grab the target. As cries of, “Hey, I wanted that one,” reached my grandmother’s ears, she would arrive in the dining room with what seemed to be an even higher mountain of dozens of latkes.
In those days, latkes were served with applesauce for a meat meal and sour cream for a dairy meal. Yes, there was always brisket for Chanukah, but that was not a topping — except according to my dad who always topped his latkes with brisket.
Today we are more creative. Latkes can serve as a base for anything from caviar to chicken, to pizza toppings. Get creative. If it tastes good, it tastes better on a latke! Happy Chanukah!
Giant Potato Latkes (Pareve)
6 very large Russet potatoes
4 tbsp. pareve trans-fat free margarine or “schmaltz”
1/2 cup Canola oil
2 to 4 large onions, finely minced
1 to 2 large leeks, finely minced
4 to 5 shallots, finely minced, enough to equal 1/2 to 2/3 cup
1 to 2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 to 1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
1-2 tsp. onion powder
2 extra-large eggs
1/4 to 1/3 cup flour
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Peel and process potatoes using a fine grating disc of the food processor. Pour the potatoes in a colander and drain any liquid. Process the onion, leeks and shallots with the regular blade of the processor until finely minced. Pour into a large bowl. Add egg, flour, salt, onion powder and pepper and mix well. Add the drained potatoes and mix thoroughly.
Heat a large oven-proof skillet (cast iron works the best) and add half the oil and half the margarine or schmaltz. When bubbly and hot, add half the potato mixture and spread the top with the back of a spoon to create a flat surface. Cook for 10-15 minutes, but do not move the latke. When the bottom is deep golden brown, slide the latke onto a plate and add more oil/schmaltz to the pan. Place another plate over the latke and flip. Slide the uncooked side into the oil. Fry until deeply golden, again, without moving the latke. Place on a foil lined rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven to keep hot. Repeat with the rest of the potato mixture, until you have 2-3 large latkes. Cut into pie-like wedges 4-8 per large latke.
Makes 2-3 large latkes that will serve about 8- 16.
NOTE: You can make regular or mini latkes from this recipe. Try a smorgasbord of toppings for the latkes for a delicious treat.
Toppings for Potato Latke Wedges (Pareve, Dairy, Meat)
Cucumber Lox and More (Dairy):
Paper-thin slices of cucumber
1 cup crème fraiche
1 small garlic clove
1 tbsp. fresh parsley, finely minced
Fresh dill or snipped chives, to taste
Thinly sliced red onions
Thin slices of natural smoked salmon
Everything bagel seasoning to taste
Mix the crème fraiche with the garlic, parsley, chives or dill and salt and pepper. Place a slice of lox, some cucumber and the cremem fraiche on the latke wedge. Top with “Everything Bagel seasoning.
Spinach Garlic and More (Pareve or Dairy):
Wilted, drained spinach
Small florets of steamed broccoli
Thick tomato sauce
OPTIONAL: Grated parmesan cheese; crushed red pepper to taste
Mash the roasted garlic and mix with the olive oil. Place the wilted spinach on the latke. Drizzle with a bit of the roasted garlic oil, top with broccoli and tomato sauce, and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
Turkey on a Latke (Meat):
Chunky Cranberry sauce
Thinly sliced chicken breast or turkey
Grainy spicy brown mustard
Arugula or watercress or baby spinach leaves
Place a thin layer of cranberry sauce on the latke. Add the chicken or turkey, caramelized onions and drizzle with the mustard. Top with the greens.
Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade on a Latke (Meat or Dairy):
2 cloves garlic
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 to 1 cup Kalamata olives
3/4 cup drained oil-packed sun dried tomatoes
3/4 tsp dried oregano
Optional: red pepper flakes, to taste
Any toppings over this such as thinly sliced roast beef, chicken or turkey, or any vegetables or cheeses you like
Drain the tomatoes and reserve the oil in a measuring cup. Set aside. Place the garlic and the tomato oil with enough olive oil to make 2/3 cup in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until smooth. Add the olives, tomatoes and oregano, and pulse until desired consistency. Season with red pepper flakes, if desired. Scrape into a serving bowl.
Top this with any foods you like to make it meat or dairy or pareve, or eat with the tapenade alone.
Top with wilted kale and sliced sautéed mushrooms. Add dollops of sour cream or crème fraiche and caramelized onions.
Top with stir fried chicken and veggies in a sweet and sour sauce.
Top with stir fried veggies and some delicious Asian–inspired sauce.
Top with hot and spicy, boneless chicken thumbs or cut the meat off wings
Top with barbecued short ribs
Top with mozzarella cheese and veggies and place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, to melt the cheese.
Top with guacamole and roasted corn kernels, and diced red onion
Sauté peeled apple cubes or slices in melted butter and sugar. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Cook until very soft. Pile on the center of the latke.