Lots of Latkes

These Hanukkah staples are delicious any time of year.

By Selma Brown Morrow

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Latke RecipesWherever in the world Jews are celebrating Hanukkah, they are doing it by cooking with some kind of fat. Hanukkah—often called the “Festival of Lights”—commemorates the recapturing of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the second century b.c. When the Hebrews went to rededicate the temple, a single day’s worth of oil burned for 8 days until more purified oil could be made. More than 2,000 years later, Jews light menorahs and eat foods cooked in oil or fat to mark the occasion. In America, they’re usually potato latkes; in Israel, they’re sufganiyot—deep-fried jelly doughnuts; and in other parts of the world, they’re pastries or fritters cooked in olive oil or chicken or duck fat.

Traditionally, latkes are made with grated potatoes and served with sour cream and applesauce, but there’s no reason not to try other combinationslike the the superb celeriac and fennel latkes or the curried carrot latkes. In fact, any root vegetable, including sweet potatoes and beets, can be transformed into addictively crispy pancakes. As for the toppings, almost anything goes. Raitas from India add a spicy note, raw fruit relishes are light and refreshing, and salsa takes them south of the border.

Nor do you need to serve latkes as a side or first course. Consider pairing them with smoked salmon, caviar, and mascarpone to start a festive dinner. Or serve them at breakfast with an omelet or poached eggs.

How to Make Perfect Latkes

  • The key to crispy latkes is to make sure you get as much moisture as possible out of the grated vegetables before cooking. This is particularly important with potatoes. You can use a kitchen towel as described on page 32, or, if you have a potato ricer, try using that.
  • Watch the stove carefully. Adjust the heat to medium by looking at the flame. Don’t rely on markers on the dial for the proper setting.
  • Resist the urge to cook the latkes at high heat. They will brown quickly but will still be raw inside. When fried on medium heat, they have time to cook through before they brown and crisp.
  • The stated cooking times are only a guide. Fry your latkes as long as necessary to achieve the right color and texture. 
  • As for what oil or fat to use, olive oil is traditional in the Middle East and Mediterranean and duck or chicken fat in eastern Europe. All of these fats contribute wonderful flavor, but you do need to be careful to keep the heat moderate to avoid burning. For cooking at higher heats, try flavorless grapeseed oil. It has a high smoke point and won’t leave a burnt taste.
  • To ensure that the latkes don’t fall apart when you flip them, cook them on the first side until the bottom is quite brown, crisp, and set.
  • If you’re serving a crowd, don’t be tempted to double the recipe. The batter will stand too long and become watery before all of it is cooked, so make one batch at a time for the best results.
  • Latkes can be made several hours or up to 1 day ahead. Store in single layers on rimmed baking sheets at room temperature for several hours or covered and refrigerated overnight. Never “blot” them on paper towels, because the fat they retain will help them sizzle back to crispness when reheated. Reheat at 350°F on their sheets until crisp and brown
     
 
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