By Barbara Beltrami
You don’t have to be Jewish to love latkes — those crispy pancakes or fritters made most often from grated potatoes and fried in oil to symbolize the cleansing and rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by the Syrians some 21 centuries ago. The Maccabees had only enough oil to light the menorah for one day, but miraculously it lasted for eight days.
Aside from this tradition, here’s the thing you must remember about latkes: They must be thin and crisp. In order to achieve that you must first coarsely grate the potatoes and any other vegetables in the recipe, then squeeze those grated veggies as dry as possible and discard the liquid that accumulates. You can add a little flour or matzo meal to the mixture, but that’s optional. A thin coating of oil in the skillet is sufficient for frying them.
While potatoes are by far the most traditional and popular ingredient, nowadays other vegetables such as sweet potatoes and zucchini have made their way into the customary Hanukkah fare. Follow the preparation procedure faithfully and create your own latkes. And you’d better make a lot, because they go fast before they even make it to the table!
YIELD: Makes 2 dozen pancakes
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and placed in cold water
1 medium onion
1 large egg, beaten
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Oil for frying
DIRECTIONS: Using a hand grater or food processor, coarsely grate the potatoes and onion. Place in a fine mesh strainer or clean tea towel and hold over a bowl while you squeeze out all the liquid. (The potato starch will settle to the bottom of the bowl; reserve that after you have very carefully poured off all the water.) In a large bowl mix the potato and onion with the starch; add the egg, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly to combine.
Place a griddle or large nonstick skillet over medium heat, pour in a thin film of vegetable oil, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Scoop about two tablespoons of the potato mixture with your hand or a large cooking spoon, flatten as much as possible, then drop gently onto griddle or into skillet. (Be careful as oil may spatter.) Flatten again with a spatula or the back of the spoon. Continue until griddle is filled but pancakes are not touching each other. Fry until golden, flip and fry the other side. Remove and place on a thick layer of paper towels, then press more paper towels on top of the pancakes to soak up excess oil. Serve immediately or reheat in a 350 F oven. Serve with applesauce or sour cream.
YIELD: Makes 2 dozen pancakes
2 pounds zucchini, coarsely grated ½ pound potatoes, coarsely grated
2 large carrots, coarsely grated
1 medium onion, coarsely grated
²⁄₃ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
²⁄₃ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1⁄₃ cup flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 garlic clove, finely minced
Vegetable or peanut oil for frying
DIRECTIONS: Drain, press and squeeze the grated vegetables to remove as much moisture as possible. Place in a medium bowl and add the cheese, parsley, flour, eggs, salt and pepper and garlic and mix thoroughly. In a large skillet, heat about ¼-inch of oil (just enough to coat the bottom of the pan). Using a large cooking spoon or your hands, scoop mixture and shape into patties; drop gently into hot oil and press with back of spoon to flatten. Over medium-high heat, fry, turning once, until both sides are crispy and golden brown. Drain on several layers of paper towels and press more paper towels on top. Serve with tomato sauce or sour cream.
Sweet Potato-Apple Latkes
YIELD: Makes 16 pancakes
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and grated
1 apple, peeled, cored and grated
½ cup flour
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 2 large eggs, beaten
Approximately ½ cup milk
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
Oil for frying
DIRECTIONS: Coarsely grate the sweet potatoes and apple over a medium bowl. Drain, press and squeeze to eliminate as much moisture as possible. In another medium bowl, thoroughly mix the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, salt and pepper. Add the eggs and milk, a few tablespoons at a time, until the batter is stiff and moist but not runny. Add potatoes and apple and mix. Heat ¼ inch of oil in a skillet just to the point of barely smoking. Gently drop the batter in two-tablespoon measures and flatten with the back of the spoon. Fry, turning once, until both sides are golden, about 3 minutes each side. Drain on paper towels and pat tops with more paper towels. Serve hot with applesauce, maple syrup, honey or cranberry sauce.