By Ellie Heller, author of A Matter of Fate
Well, that is, depending upon your tradition. You see, the reason behind eating latkes during Hanukkah is to celebrate that a one day supply of sacred lamp oil lasted eight days — long enough to make more. To celebrate, many Jewish households cook food in oil. In America what we cook depends upon where our ancestors immigrated from. If your family was from Europe or Russia, the holiday tradition you are more likely to follow is making potato pancakes — latkes — served with apple sauce and sour cream. If your family came from a Mediterranean or Middle East country your family is more likely to make fried donuts — such as the Israeli sufganiyot — which are frequently filled with jelly but not always.
My family’s tradition is to make latkes, and the smell of potatoes, onion, and oil permeating the house is one I always associate with Hanukkah. (However, if you want a good sufganiyot recipe, Epicurious has one here.)
Our big debate is whether to make them with shredded, finely minced, or even pureed potatoes. There are benefits to each. With the shredded potatoes, which make the end result look more like hash brown patties, you have thin, crispy “threads” of potato, particularly around the edge, and a less dense middle. This style is particularly appealing to my kids who love french fries. Epicurious has a recipe for this kind of latkes, although I think they are remiss in not adding in a binder starch such as flour or matzah meal to help keep the batter together. Their image of the end product:
However, there are benefits to the minced pureed version too. They are more uniformly crisp — no wisps of super crunchy potato threads around the edge — and they keep well and reheat well, very helpful when you are feeding a crowd. Plus with these you can taste more of the potato — the middle is thicker and denser. Here’s a wonderful video by Feed Me Bubbe (bubbe is Yiddish for grandmother) showing how to make blender potato latkes:
A more recent innovation is to use other ingredients, either along side the potatoes or in place of them. For instance zucchini and potato latkes (recipe courtesy Food Network) are popular, as are sweet potato latkes (recipe courtesy Epicurious). A search on any popular food centric website will lead you to a dozen variations including this easy, quick version by Kim Kushner, which uses a food processor and is a mirror of the one the women’s auxialliary of my congregation used for years to create the hundreds of latkes needed for our annual Hanukkah dinner.
These are perfect to make ahead of time, freeze in a single layer and reheat (400 degrees for 10 minutes). If you don’t already make them, pick a recipe to try and start a new tradition. They are a fun, festive food that is easy to indulge in once a year. Or twice. Or… 🙂
Let us know if you tried one. We’d love to hear what you thought.