Latkes for Hanukkah

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By Emily Paster

Yes, this year Thanksgiving falls during Hanukkah. Yes, everyone is talking about the culinary mash-up of these two holidays. I even wrote a freelance article for this paper about how to merge Thanksgiving and Hanukkah food traditions. (To sum up: I recommend going with sweet potato latkes and challah stuffing.) But Hanukkah lasts for eight days and Thanksgiving is just the one. What if you want to celebrate a proper Hanukkah all on its own? Well, in that case, once you've gotten over your Thanksgiving food coma, you need to make some regular old potato latkes, serve them with a big hunk of meat and a nice green salad and call it a party.

It is traditional to celebrate Hanukkah by eating food cooked in oil. Sounds healthy, right? In Israel, they eat jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot, and Sephardic Jews make dough fritters called bañuelos, that are like beignets. Yum. But the most well-known Hanukkah food for Eastern Eurpoean Jews, like my family, are potato pancakes called latkes. Every Jewish family has their own carefully guarded latke recipe. Latkes are fattening, a pain to make and the smell lingers in your house for days. They are also absolutely delicious. So, it is okay to indulge in these holiday treats once a year.

Latkes are typically made by grating potatoes, adding some minced onion and salt and pepper for flavor, binding the mixture together with egg, and frying the batter in oil. Some people add flour or matzo meal to make the latkes hold together better, but I think doing so takes away from that lacy, crispy potato texture. The secret to making latkes, in my opinion, is to squeeze as much liquid out of the grated potato as possible. The liquid and the potato starch will make the pancakes dense and soggy, which is NOT what you want.

It is traditional to serve latkes with applesauce or sour cream and the two camps are bitterly divided. (I'm sour cream; my husband and daughter are strictly applesauce.) But however you serve them, latkes are a Hanukkah tradition that should not get lost in the Thanksgiving shuffle.

Traditional Potato Latkes

  • 2-3 Russet potatoes, peeled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 yellow onion, finely minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • Canola oil for frying

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, beat together two eggs and then add the onion.
  2. Grate the potatoes using a box grater and place the shreds in a colander.
  3. Pick up a handful of shredded potato and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Then add the drained shreds to the bowl.
  4. Repeat this process until you have squeezed all the potato shreds and added them to the bowl.
  5. Season well with salt and pepper and toss to combine. (If you used three potatoes, you might need to add another egg if your mixture looks really dry.)
  6. Meanwhile, pour a thin layer of canola or vegetable oil in a large, deep skillet and heat until shimmering.
  7. To fry the latkes, grab a handful of the batter and drop it in the skillet. Flatten it slightly with a spatula.
  8. You can fry several latkes at a time but don"t overcrowd the skillet.
  9. Fry until brown and crisp on bottom and then flip. Remove when the the other side is brown and crisp.
  10. Place on a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
  11. You can keep the latkes warm in a 200 degree oven while you finish frying the batter.
  12. Serve with applesauce and sour cream

Happy Hanukkah everyone!

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