Sundown Dec. 22 marks the start of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. During Hannukah’s eight days, there will be lots of latkes.
While latkes are popular Hanukkah fare, it’s the oil they’re cooked in that’s symbolic. Foods fried in oil commemorate the one day supply of oil that miraculously lasted eight days when Maccabees rededicated the temple in Jerusalem.
But why potato pancakes? It’s simple: Potatoes were plentiful.
With latkes, you’re after crispy on the outside and soft on the inside — not soggy or greasy. The most basic potato latke recipe mixes grated potatoes and onions with a binder like flour, eggs and seasonings.
But for a different spin, try mixing shredded potatoes with other root vegetables, fresh herbs and different seasonings. Latkes are often served with applesauce or source cream, but you can top them with whatever you like.
Here are a few tips if you’re preparing latkes for Hanukkah — or any time of the year.
Which potatoes should you use?
Starchier potatoes work best. Russet or baking potatoes are commonly used. You can also use unpeeled or peeled red skin potatoes. If you don’t peel them, scrub them well before shredding. Yukon Gold potatoes are softer, and provide a creamier texture. Also, sweet potatoes can work.
Can you use other vegetables?
Try mixing shredded potatoes with other root vegetables such as shredded carrots or parsnips. Zucchini and summer squash can be used, but be sure to thoroughly squeeze them of excess moisture.
Should the potatoes be shredded or grated?
You can use the large holes of a box grater to shred the potatoes by hand. A food processor with a shredding disc will be quicker. If you’re after really quick and convenient, buy a bag of shredded hash browns. You’ll need to thaw the hash browns before making the latkes.
What will prevent the potatoes from turning dark?
Work quickly, or put the shredded potatoes in cold water. If they turn a rusty color, give them a rinse under cold water. You can also use a little lemon juice.
How do you get crisp — not soggy — latkes?
Get rid of the excess moisture. Once the potatoes are shredded, wrap in a clean kitchen tea (non terrycloth) towel. Wrap the potatoes tightly, hold over a bowl or sink, and twist the towel to squeeze out the moisture.
What oil/fat should you use to fry the latkes?
Use a neutral oil with a high smoke point. Vegetable or canola oil works, as will peanut. You can use olive oil, but its low smoke point (the temperature it can reach before burning) makes it troublesome, because the latkes can burn. Rendered chicken fat, called schmaltz, can also be used.
ESTER KRAFT’S POTATO LATKES RECIPE
Check out today’s basic latke recipe. We’ve also provided eight toppings suggestions for the eight days of Hanukkah.
Makes: About 24 / Prep time: 15 minutes / Total time: 1 hour
6 russet potatoes
1 large peeled, quartered onion
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup matzo meal or as needed
1 tablespoon salt
Canola oil as needed
Peel the potatoes and then cut them into cubes. As you cube them place the cubes in a bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent them from darkening.
In a food processor, grate the potatoes and the onion. Once grated, remove the mixture from the food processor and place in a tea towel. Bring up the edges, encasing the potato mixture, twist to squeeze and press out as much water as you can. Put the mixture in a bowl and add the eggs, flour, baking powder, matzo meal and salt.
In a large skillet, heat about 1/4-inch of oil over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, place heaping tablespoons (almost 2 tablespoons) of the potato mixture in the hot oil and flatten it. Brown the latke about 11/2 minutes on each side. Work in batches.
Repeat with remaining mixture, pressing the mixture against the side of the bowl when you scoop it out to drain any excess liquid.
After frying, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Serve with sour cream or applesauce.
From Esther Kraft, Farmington Hills.
Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen. Analysis per 1 latke.
128 calories (38% from fat), 5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 17 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 312 mg sodium, 35 mg cholesterol, 2 g.
Eight days of latke toppings for the eight days of Hanukkah
Salmon spread: Mix sour cream with chopped fresh dill and capers. Spread on latkes and top with chopped smoked salmon.
Spicy applesauce: Spruce up plain applesauce with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
Cranberry sauce: Mix whole cranberry sauce with chopped or shredded apple. Serve with sweet potato latkes.
Herb cream: Mix sour cream with freshly chopped herbs.
Chipotle mayo: Mix 1 chipotle chili pepper in canned adobo sauce with 1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise.
Cinnamon sour cream: Whisk 1 cup reduced-fat sour cream with 2 teaspoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon.
Apple and onion: Mix chopped apple and chopped onion with lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Serve with sweet potato latkes.
Asian fusion: Mix 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce, 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, 1 teaspoon rice vinegar and 1 tablespoon sweet Asian-style chili sauce. Serve with green onion latkes.
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