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 love latkes and have 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 had to be just right. The color had to be perfect — a deep golden brown. If the latke was too light, there would not be enough crispy outside.
The edges of a latke were important. The little strands of crisped 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. And remember — if it tastes good, it tastes better on a latke!
Giant Potato Latkes (Pareve)
6 Russet potatoes
4 Tbsp. pareve trans-fat free margarine or “schmaltz”
1/2 cup Canola oil
2 to 4 onions, finely minced
1 to 2 leeks, light green and white parts only finely minced
3 to 5 shallots, finely minced, enough to equal 1/2 cup
1 to 2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 to 1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
1 to 2 tsp. onion powder
2 large eggs
1/4 to 1/3 cup flour
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Peel and process potatoes using a medium shredding disc of the food processor. Pour the potatoes into a colander and drain any liquid. Process the onion, leeks and shallots with the regular S blade of the processor until finely minced, but not liquefied. 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 to 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 to 3 large latkes. Cut into pie-like wedges 4 to 8 per large latke. Makes 2 to 3 large latkes that will serve about 8 to 16.
NOTE: You can, of course, make regular or mini latkes from this recipe, but this is a delicious alternative and uses less oil.
NOTE: You can top this with some cooked apples seasoned with cinnamon and pure maple syrup while cooking, sour cream seasoned with lemon, garlic and chives, Traditional onion dip, some shredded brisket with a barbecue sauce, Sautéed onions and mushrooms and more!
Sweet Potato Latkes (Dairy or Pareve)
3 to 4 Hannah or Garnet yams, about 1 to 1-and-a-half pounds
1/2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1 Tbsp. dark brown sugar or pure maple syrup
2 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup regular, unsweetened almond milk or soy milk
1/3 to 1/2 cup unbleached flour
1-1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 to 1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
OPTIONAL: Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper if you like a “kick” to your latkes; One onion, grated or finely chopped in a food processor and drained; One bunch scallions, thinly sliced
Peel the yams with a medium shredding disc of the food processor. Scrape the potatoes into a large bowl and add the cinnamon, sugar or maple syrup, eggs, and plant-based milk. Mix well. In another small bowl, add the baking soda, salt, pepper, and baking powder to the flour and mix together. Add the flour mixture to the potatoes and blend completely.
Heat a large skillet until a drop of water “dances” across the pan and evaporates. Add about 1/2 to inch of oil and let it heat for a few seconds. Slide heaping tablespoons of the batter into the hot oil and fry for 3 to 5 minutes or until golden brown. Gently flip and cook on the other side until done. Remove the latkes to a tray lined with brown paper, a cut open shopping bag will do. Repeat until all the latkes are cooked.
(Almost But Not Quite) Traditional Potato Latkes (Pareve)
5 to 6 large Idaho (Russet) potatoes, peeled or scrubbed well
2 large onions
3 to 5 scallions, white and green parts, washed and sliced in 1/4 inch slices
2 to 3 shallots, peeled
1 leek (4 to 6 inches white and light green parts) cut in half lengthwise, washed and sliced
2 large eggs
1 to 2 tsp. salt
1/2 to 1 tsp. white pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Peel or scrub the potatoes. Process the potatoes with a medium shredding disc of a food processor. Transfer the potatoes to a strainer and strain the liquid into a large mixing bowl, pressing on the mixture to extract as much liquid as possible. Replace the shredding disc with the blade and process the onions, scallions, shallots and leeks, until finely chopped but still dry. If you over process them, they will become very liquidy.
Press the potatoes one last time and place the strainer filled with the potatoes on a towel. Carefully pour off the liquid from the bowl, leaving the white starch at the bottom. Add the drained potatoes and the onion mixture to the starch and mix well. Add the eggs, salt, and pepper, and mix well. Add the flour and baking powder and mix well.
Heat a large frying pan until a drop of water “dances” across the pan and evaporates. Pour about 1/2 inch of canola oil into the pan and let heat for a few seconds. Add large spoons of the latke batter to the pan and gently press to flatten so you have latkes about 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Let fry until golden brown. Gently turn the latkes and cook until golden. Remove the latkes to a tray covered with brown paper (a cut open shopping bag works well). Continue until all the batter is used, adding more oil to the pan as needed. You may need to add a bit more flour as you work. Taste the first latke and adjust the seasonings. Serve hot with applesauce or sour cream.
Fabulous Zucchini Latkes (Pareve)
1 to 2 onions
1 bunch scallions or chives, minced
3 medium zucchini, unpeeled
2 extra-large eggs
1/2 to 1 cup flour (more may be needed) or matzah meal
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
generous pinch white pepper
Oil for frying
Shred the onions and the zucchini in a food processor, using the fine shredding disc. Pour off the excess liquid and squeeze out more as you transfer the mixture to a large bowl. (I love Nitrile food prep gloves for this) and transfer the mixture into a large bowl. Add the eggs, salt, baking powder and flour and toss to mix thoroughly.
Heat a large skillet until a drop of water “dances” across the pan and evaporates. Add about one half inch of oil and let it heat for a few seconds. Slide large spoonfuls of the zucchini mixture into the pan and let cook until golden brown. Gently turn and brown on the other side. Transfer to a platter lined with brown paper and continue frying until all the batter is used, adding more oil to the pan as needed. Makes about 15 to 25 latkes.
Root Vegetable Latkes (Pareve)
1 cup shredded carrot
1 cup shredded celeriac
1 cup shredded parsnip
3/4 cup shredded leek
4 to 6 minced scallions
1 small golden beet, peeled and shredded
1 to 2 large Russet potatoes, peeled
2 large eggs
1/2 cup matzo meal or flour, more as needed
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Canola or olive oil for frying
Shred all the peeled vegetables in a food processor using a medium shredding disc. Remove them to a large bowl and process the potatoes. Remove any excess liquid from the vegetables, squeeze the potatoes, and add them to the mixture. Mix them well to distribute evenly. Add the eggs, matzo meal or flour, salt and pepper. Mix well. Drain any excess liquid, if there is any, and add a bit more flour, if needed.
Heat a large, heavy skillet until a drop of water “dances” across the pan and evaporates. Add about 1/2 inch of oil and heat till shimmery. Slide spoons of the vegetable mixture into the oil and fry until golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Gently turn and cook until golden. Drain on paper bags or paper towels and serve hot. Great with guacamole, hummus or more traditonal sour cream and chives. Makes 18 to 25 latkes.