Three Ways to Enjoy the Classic Hanukkah Treat Latkes. Lia Crowe photography

For The Love Of Latkes

Three Ways to Enjoy this Classic Hanukkah Treat

  • Dec. 16, 2020 8:00 a.m.

– Words By Ellie Shortt Photos by Lia Crowe

So these unassuming little latkes really represent triumph over evil, freedom from oppression, hope and salvation, and unexpected miracles—things we could all sink our teeth into these days especially.

When you hear the word “latke”what comes to mind? For many it’s some sort of potato pancake, perhaps the base of a funky benny at a hip brunch spot or it might be just an awkwardly spelled word that provides potential ambiguity in pronunciation (I personally say lat-kah, not lat-kee for the record).

For me, what comes immediately to mind is the playful glow of candlelight dancing on the walls, and the smell of hot oil lingering in the house. It’s a timeless swirl of sweet, savoury and creamy, as applesauce, sour cream and crispy-fried potatoes layer together in each perfect bite. It’s also family time, deep-belly laugher, festive songs and sore thumbs from spinning dreidels for hours.

Truly, Hanukkah touches all senses, the most important of all, a special feeling of nostalgia in my heart. I’m transported to a vision of my brothers and me in a sort of family assembly line of peeling, grating and mixing, ski-goggles on to help diminish the teary effects of chopping through pounds of onions. The windows are all wide open in a feeble attempt to diminish that inevitable oily smog, all of us bundled in sweaters and jackets as the cool December air filters in. It’s funny how a humble potato pancake can conjure up so many memories, so much emotion and so much sensory association. But perhaps that’s the beauty of classic comforts and nostalgic nosh—it’s often less about the food itself and more so how it makes one feel and what it represents.

Originating in Eastern Europe sometime around the Middle Ages, the word latke gets its start (via Yiddish) from the East Slavic word oladka, a diminutive from oladya, or “small pancake,” and that Slavic word is derived from the ancient Greek diminutive of “olive oil” or “oily substance.” The use of potatoes and onion are obvious—two classic ingredients in Eastern European cuisine —but what’s the obsession over all the oil? Well, in short, Hanukkah celebrates the victory of a small group of Jewish rebels over an oppressive Selucid monarchy, and commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Once the temple was rededicated, the Jewish people were eager to relight their ritual candelabrum, called a menorah, but only had one day’s worth of oil. This small amount of oil miraculously burned for eight days, which is the reason Jewish people light the special Hanukkah menorah (hanukkiah) for eight days. Jewish people also honour the miracle of the oil by eating oily foods, including of course, latkes. So these unassuming little latkes really represent triumph over evil, freedom from oppression, hope and salvation, and unexpected miracles—things we could all sink our teeth into these days especially.

I always make a batch of latkes on the first night of Hanukkah. As a pragmatic adult with a heavy reliance on kitchen tools, I use the grating function on my food processor for both the potatoes and the onions, thus saving time and diminishing the need for the ski-goggle fashion statement of my youth. Windows are still wide open of course (because that oily aroma is intense and unavoidable), but I also implement hood vents, essential oil diffusions and an air purifier to expedite the de-odourizing process.

With an adventurous palate and unquenchable desire to experiment with as many alternative ingredients as possible (or, more accurately, what just so happens to be in my fridge at the time), I also often deviate from the tried-and-true potato-only approach. Root veggies, colourful tubers, leafy greens—I’ve found great delight in exploring the many ways to make a savoury pancake, still drawing upon the basics of grated, egg-mixed and flour-bound patties, although my choice of flour varies significantly.

Yes, cultural and nostalgic customs still live strong in our household around Hanukkah, but the evolution of that traditional base is ever-expanding. So today, I share three of my favourite iterations of the latke—a Moroccan-inspired, spiced-root vegetable option for the more adventurous; a green-goodness and low-starch take for the health focused; and a classic, simple and winning recipe of the basic potato latke for the traditionalists. Try the one that resonates with you the most, or perhaps all three for a fun and festive latke party and see how this once seemingly insignificant little fritter conjures up whole new meanings and sensory associations next time you hear the word latke.

For the Traditionalist: Classic Potato Latkes

Makes about 12 large or 24 small latkes

Ingredients

  • 3 lb. russet potatoes (about 4–6 large/medium)
  • 1 lb. onions (about 2 medium)
  • 1/4 cup flour (I usually just use all-purpose, but breadcrumbs also work well)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2-3 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 large eggs
  • Oil as needed (I like to use olive oil for this recipe)

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 325 F and top a baking sheet with a wired cooling rack. Lay out some thick layers of paper towel on another baking sheet or even your kitchen counter near your stovetop
  • Peel the potatoes and onions, and using the large holes of a box grater or the grater disk on a food processor, grate the potatoes and onions. *Option: if you want your latkes to be extra crispy, transfer the grated potatoes and onion to a large kitchen towel, gather the ends of the towel, twist over your sink and squeeze firmly to wring out as much liquid as possible before transferring to a bowl
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, pepper and eggs until smooth. Add the potato-onion mixture and mix until well coated (the latke mixture should be wet and thick, but not soupy. You can also mix in another egg if you’re finding it too dry)
  • In a large frying pan, heat 2 to 4 Tbsp of oil over medium-high heat. Drop a small amount of latke mixture into the pan—if the oil sizzles around the edges, it’s ready (do not let the oil smoke though)
  • Working in batches and adding more oil to the skillet as needed to maintain about 1/8inches of oil, drop large spoonfuls of the mixture into the pan, pressing gently with the back of a spoon or spatula to flatten slightly (if the mixture becomes watery between batches, mix to incorporate, but do not drain at this point)
  • Cook the latkes until golden brown and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side (if you’re noticing small pieces of latke mixture floating in the oil start to burn, carefully strain or wipe out)
  • Transfer the latkes to the paper towel to drain, and then transfer them to the prepared wire rack. Place the wired-rack-topped baking sheet with latkes in the oven to keep warm and crisp while cooking the remaining latkes

Latkes are served here with Avalon Dairy organic sour cream, smoked salmon, and dill.

For the Adventurist: Spiced Root Veggies Latkes

Makes about 12 large or 24 small latkes

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. yam or sweet potato (about 1 medium)
  • 1 lb. carrot (about 2 large/medium)
  • 1 lb. parsnip (about 2 large/medium)
  • 1 lb. onions (about 2 medium)
  • 1/4 cup flour (I like to use coconut flour for this recipe)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2-3 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp ginger
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp
  • 4 large eggs
  • Oil as needed (I like to use coconut oil for this recipe)

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 325 F and top a baking sheet with a wired cooling rack. Lay out some thick layers of paper towel on another baking sheet or even your kitchen counter near your stovetop
  • Peel sweet potato/yam, carrot, parsnip and onions, and using the large holes of a box grater or the grater disk on a food processor, grate sweet potato/yam, carrot, parsnip and onions. *Note: you definitely do not have to strain the vegetables in this recipe as they’re more dry than the other options (plus the coconut flour is more absorbent if you’re using that as a flour)
  • In a large bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, pepper, spices and eggs until smooth. Add the veggie-onion mixture, and mix until well coated (the latke mixture should be wet and thick, but not soupy. You can also mix in another egg if you’re finding it too dry)
  • In a large frying pan, heat 2-4 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Drop a small amount of latke mixture into the pan—if the oil sizzles around the edges, it’s ready (do not let the oil smoke, though)
  • Working in batches and adding more oil to the skillet as needed to maintain about 1/8inches of oil, drop large spoonfuls of the mixture into the pan, pressing gently with the back of a spoon or spatula to flatten slightly
  • Cook the latkes until golden brown and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side (if you’re noticing small pieces of latke mixture floating in the oil start to burn, carefully strain or wipe out)
  • Transfer the latkes to the paper towel to drain, and then transfer them to the prepared wire rack. Place the wired-rack-topped baking sheet with latkes in the oven to keep warm and crisp while cooking the remaining latkes

Latkes are served here with Tree Island Greek Yogurt and cinnamon spiced apple sauce, and topped with thyme and a sprinkling of cinnamon.

For the Health Nut: Kale and Zucchini Latkes

Makes about 24 latkes

Ingredients

  • 2 lb. zucchini (about 2 medium)
  • 1 lb. kale (about 1 big bunch)
  • 1 lb. onions (about 2 medium)
  • 1/2 cup flour (I like to use almond flour for this recipe)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2-3 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp fresh chives, minced
  • 1 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced
  • 3 large eggs
  • Oil as needed (I like to use avocado oil for this recipe)

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 325 F and top a baking sheet with a wired cooling rack. Lay out some thick layers of paper towel on another baking sheet or even your kitchen counter near your stovetop
  • Peel the onions, trim the zucchini and trim/ finely chop the kale. Using the large holes of a box grater or the grater disk on a food processor, grate the zucchini and onions. *Option: if you want your latkes to be extra crispy, transfer the grated kale, zucchini and onion to a large kitchen towel, gather the ends of towel, twist over your sink, and squeeze firmly to wring out as much liquid as possible before transferring to a bowl
  • In a large bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, pepper and eggs until smooth. Add the veggie-onion mixture as well as the diced herbs, and mix until well coated (the latke mixture should be wet and thick, but not soupy. You can also mix in another egg if you’re finding it too dry)
  • In a large frying pan, heat 2 to 4 Tbsp of oil over medium-high heat. Drop a small amount of latke mixture into the pan—if the oil sizzles around the edges, it’s ready (do not let the oil smoke, though)
  • Working in batches and adding more oil to the skillet as needed to maintain about 1/8inches of oil, drop large spoonfuls of the mixture into the pan, pressing gently with the back of a spoon or spatula to flatten slightly
  • Cook the latkes until golden brown and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side (if you’re noticing small pieces of veggie floating in the oil start to burn, carefully strain or wipe out)
  • Transfer the latkes to the paper towel to drain, and then transfer them to the prepared wire rack. Place the wired-rack-topped baking sheet
  • with latkes in the oven to keep warm and crisp while cooking the remaining latkes

Latkes are served here with chopped chives and a creamy avocado chive whip (recipe below).

Creamy Avocado Chive Whip

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 Tbsp fresh chives, diced
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • Water as needed (about 2 Tbsp)

Directions

  • In a small blender, combine all the ingredients, including 1 Tbsp of water, and blend until smooth
  • (Continue to add water as needed until light and creamy (like the texture of sour cream or yogurt)

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

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