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Potato latkes brighten Hanukkah, holidays


You say potato, I say latke.
  • You say potato, I say latke.

If there were a record for introducing gentiles to Jewish food, I'm pretty sure my family would hold it. I'd wager that over the years, at least half the potato latkes in our frying pans have gone to Hanukkah dinner guests, many in their 20s, 30s and 40s who've never before tried a blintz, matzo ball or potato kugel.

I'm always surprised. But then again, I've lived in Alabama and Colorado, two locales not exactly teeming with the yarmulkes of Florida or New York. (Colorado Springs: not the Jerusalem of the once-Wild West, at least for Jews.)

Each year, I like to fill an ambassadorial role. I throw a casual Hanukkah party and cook up what would equate to a small mountain of latkes, were they stacked instead of consumed immediately while hot and crisp, as they should be. The preparation for such gatherings can take the better part of a day if you don't have help peeling and grating all the potatoes. So I always invite too many people and wheedle a few into work. But, as with all things Jewish, suffering and sacrifice for all yields beautiful results.

And the great news: You don't have to be Jewish to make delicious latkes and throw a party. Heck, you don't even have to wait for the holidays. I've made latkes in the spring, just because I was craving them.

Most latke recipes are straightforward; the traditional recipe I offer below is apparently a Russian variation that my mom ripped from McCall's magazine back in the '70s the nutmeg is the most unusual addition.

The sweet potato recipe, definitely a creative twist on the standard, comes from a cookbook from our synagogue, comprised of member-submitted recipes. At recent parties, the sweet potato latkes have been a favorite with first-timers.

Traditional latkes

Yields roughly 24 latkes

4 large potatoes (I prefer Russet)

2 eggs, slightly beaten

cup grated onion (I use yellow onions)

2 tablespoons flour

teaspoon salt

dash pepper

dash nutmeg

Sweet potato latkes

Yields roughly 24 latkes

2 pounds sweet potato or yams

2 eggs, slightly beaten

4 green onions, finely chopped

2 tablespoons minced gingerroot

2/3 cup flour

1 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For both recipes, grate peeled potatoes or yams half on medium grade and half on fine grade, my dad's technique to form a tighter, two-textured latke into large mixing bowls, then add and mix in the additional ingredients.

Form latkes into 2- to 3-inch-wide, -inch-thick patties. Cook in hot vegetable oil, roughly 1/8- to -inch deep. When the sides begin to brown, flip and cook an equal amount of time, until brown and crispy. The potatoes will sweat a lot of starch; spoon it off in between frying batches.

As they come out of the pan, place them on a thick stack of paper towels and dab to soak up the oil. Serve immediately with applesauce and sour cream. Many recipes say to keep warm in a 225-degree oven; I disagree, as they get mushy over time.

Make latkes a meal on their own or serve them with the aforementioned Jewish foods, a roast or even a salad as a lighter option. To drink: I pair latkes with amber or dark winter ales and sweeter or fruit-rich red wines. Tooth-tingly sweet Manischewitz wine is always an option, for purists.

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