Wherever 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
Best Potato Latkes with Super-Quick Chunky Applesauce
For the applesauce:
For the latkes:
To make the applesauce:
In a 6-to-8-cup microwave-safe bowl, combine the apples, juice concentrate, and salt and toss to coat. Cover the dish with a plate. Microwave on high until the apples are tender, about 5 minutes. Using a potato masher, crush the apples to a coarse, chunky sauce. Mix in the sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice to taste.
To make the latkes: Place a large rimmed baking sheet on the center rack of the oven and preheat to 325°F. In a large bowl, whisk the egg, salt, baking powder, and pepper to blend. Drape a smooth (not textured) kitchen towel over a large sieve.
Place the potatoes and 1/2 cup of the onion in a processor. Blend in several 10-to-15-second intervals, scraping down the sides of the bowl each time, until the potatoes are finely ground and the batter is wet and thick but not completely smooth. Turn the batter out into the kitchen towel.
Twist the towel very tightly around the batter and squeeze until the potatoes are very dry and about 3/4 cup liquid has been removed. Scrape the mixture into the bowl with the egg and seasonings. Add the flour and mix until the batter sticks together. Mix in the remaining 1 cup chopped onion. Lay a large piece of foil on a work surface. Drop 12 heaping tablespoons of batter into separate mounds on the foil, using all of the batter.
Add 1/4 cup oil to a large nonstick skillet. Heat over medium heat 3 minutes. Using a metal spatula, transfer 1 mound of batter to the skillet. Gently press to 21/2-to-3-inch-diameter round. Repeat three more times for four latkes. Cook until deep brown and crisp on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn latkes over. Cook until deep brown and crisp on the bottom. Transfer to the baking sheet in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding more oil to the skillet as needed.
Serve with applesauce and sour cream.
Be sure to try these other delicious latkes:
Photos by Mitch Mandell & food styling by Tara Long