Kosher Kitchen

Remember my grandmother’s schmaltzy latkes


Chanukah is here! I am excited. Like a kid, I get excited over this holiday because, as a kid, it meant that I would see my paternal grandparents for almost a whole day and that all my cousins would come from near and far for a few days which meant a sleepover with my female cousins from Connecticut. As an adult, it means I can see my grandchildren light up as we light the candles and eat latkes!

Mostly, it meant latkes made by my grandmother and brisket and chicken soup and more. But there was nothing like her latkes. She grated by hand, used lots of gribenes and schmaltz and the results, yes, a heart attack on a plate, were out of this world.

I have tried to replicate her latkes for decades. But, unless I am willing to make pints of gribenes and chicken fat, I am not sure that it is possible to recreate that flavor. Probably better to just remember.

My mother made latkes, too. She once got a recipe for latkes made from instant mashed potatoes. Always one to try the new and exciting newspaper or magazine recipes (onion soup brisket, Coke brisket, cut glass cake made with different colors of KoJel!) she tried these latkes. We all rebelled and then had a lot of fun grating onions and potatoes and making REAL latkes together.

Over the years, I have experimented with all kinds of latkes, from zucchini to sweet potato, leek and mashed potato, and many more. But still, my family demands “real” (as they call them) potato latkes with apple sauce at least once during the holiday.

My favorite is zucchini, leek and carrot latkes, but I make the onion-y, potato ones every year and I add a teaspoon of schmaltz to the oil when I fry them — a tribute to my grandmother that adds just a wisp of the delicious flavor I remember.

Happy Chanukah to all. Let’s not forget that this holiday is about the miracle of survival that allowed us to go on and become the people we are today!

Zucchini, Leek and Carrot Latkes

3/4 pound carrots, peeled

3 zucchini, ends trimmed

2 leeks, about 4 to 6 inches each, white and very light green parts only

2 large onions

1 russet potato, peeled

2 eggs

1/4 to 1/3 cup unbleached flour or GF flour

1 tsp. baking soda

Salt and pepper to taste

Canola oil for frying

Shred the vegetables using the medium shredding disc of the food processor, or the medium side of a box grater. Place the veggies in a large strainer and let drain for about 5 minutes. Place in the center of a clean dishtowel, fold over the ends and twist to remove any more liquid.

Place the vegies in a large bowl, add the eggs and mix well. Add the baking soda and flour and mix. Season generously with salt and pepper and mix well.

Heat a large skillet and add about a quarter to a half-inch of oil. When the oil is shimmer, drop spoonfuls of the mixture into the hot oil and flatten gently. Fry until the bottom is golden brown. Do not disturb during this stage.

Turn the latkes and fry until golden. Place on a cooling rack or brown paper to drain. Repeat, adding more oil as needed. Makes about 3 dozen medium-sized latkes.

Potato, Leek and Cheese Latkes (Dairy)

2 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled

2 cloves garlic

1 large onion, peeled

4 leeks, white part only, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and very thinly sliced

2 Tbsp. butter or trans-fat-free-pareve margarine

2 to 4 Tbsp. unbleached flour

2 extra-large eggs

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

1 tsp. salt, more or less to taste

1/4 tsp. white pepper, more to taste

1/2 lb. finely shredded cheddar cheese

Canola oil for frying

Shred the potato, garlic, and onion with a fine grater in a food processor. Place in a colander over a bowl and let sit for about 10 minutes. Place the veggies in a clean dishtowel. Roll up lengthwise and twist the ends to squeeze out any liquid.

Heat a large skillet and add the butter. Add the leeks and garlic. Heat until softened and beginning to turn golden. Remove from heat.

Place the drained potato mixture in a clean dishtowel and into a bowl. Add the leeks and mix well. Add the eggs, flour, and cream of tartar, and season with the salt and pepper. Add the cheese and mix well.

Heat a large skillet. When the pan is hot enough for a drop of water to skittle away and evaporate, add about a half-inch of Canola oil and heat through. Spoon the potato mixture by large spoonfuls and let heat until they turn golden brown. Do not disturb them while they are cooking. Flip carefully and fry until golden. Serve with plain yogurt, sour cream or, applesauce. Makes 20 to 30 latkes.

Mashed Potato Latkes (Dairy)

To make these for a meat meal, substitute chicken stock for the milk.

3 large, russet potatoes — peeled, boiled and mashed

3 to 4 onions, finely chopped

4 to 5 shallots, peeled and chopped

2 cups sifted unbleached flour

1 tsp. salt

Black pepper to taste

1 Tbsp. baking powder

2 extra-large eggs

1 cup milk or chicken stock

Canola oil

Peel and chop the potatoes into chunks. Place in a pot of water and bring to a boil. Boil until soft. Drain well, let dry in the pot for about 10 minutes, and mash. Meanwhile, while the potatoes are boiling, cut the onions and shallots into chunks and place in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Heat a medium skillet and add about 2 tablespoons of canola oil. Sauté the onions and shallots until golden.

Place the flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Add the mashed potatoes and sautéed onion and shallots including any residual oil and mix until thoroughly combined. Place the eggs and milk in a small bowl and whisk until completely blended. Add to the potato mixture and mix to blend.

Heat a large skillet and add about a quarter-inch of oil. Form the potato mixture into patties and place carefully into the hot oil. Fry until golden, about 4-5 minutes each side. Turn and fry until golden. Makes about 10-14 latkes.

Spinach, Onion, Feta and Parmesan Latkes (Dairy)

This is great for leftover mashed potatoes. I make extra mashed potatos for dinner so I can make these!

2 onions, cut in quarters and thinly sliced

5 generous cups mashed potatoes

3 cups fresh baby spinach leaves, finely chopped

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, more to taste, if you like

1/2 to 3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled

2 extra-large egg

3 to 4 Tbsp. unbleached flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

OPTIONAL: Oregano, fresh mint, cumin, or any Mediterranean herbs and spices you like

Oil for frying

Optional: Breadcrumbs, plain or Panko for coating for crispier latkes.

Cut the onions and slice with a food processor.

Heat a large skillet and add 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the onions and cook for 15 to 25 minutes over medium-low heat, until deep golden brown. If the onions begin to stick, add a spoonful of water and scrape up brown bits with a silicon spatula. Set the onions aside in a small bowl.

Place the pan over low heat and add a bit of oil. Add the spinach and toss until just wilted. Add to the onions, leaving any liquid in the pan. Mix well.

If using leftover potatoes, heat through and mash to a smooth consistency. Add the eggs, flour, baking powder and salt and mix well. Add the onion mixture and the cheeses and mix thoroughly. Add more flour if the mixture is too thin.

Form into patties and dredge in breadcrumbs, if desired, for a crispier latke.

Take a clean frying pan and heat it for until a tiny drop of water skittles across the pan and evaporates. Add about a quarter-inch of oil to the pan and let it heat for a few seconds, until shimmery. Add the patties and let them cook, undisturbed, until golden on the bottom. Flip once and cook until golden. Drain on brown paper while completing the latkes. Makes about 8 to 12 latkes.