Last night marked the first of eight crazy nights for Jewish people around the globe. Hanukkah–the festival of lights. If you are Jewish, chances are that you have your mother’s recipe for latkes and if you’re lucky, maybe even your Nana’s. If you aren’t Jewish, you may be asking, “Latkes?”
Latkes, pronounced “Lot-kuhs” and also referred to as potato pancakes, are shredded potatoes (think hash browns) formed into patties and fried in oil. Traditionally, they are made during Hanukkah to symbolize the oil that kept the the temple in ancient Israel lit for eight nights as opposed to the expected one–a miracle. They are served with applesauce (my personal favorite) or sour cream. Over the years, I’ve tried many latke variations–sweet potato, parsnip, carrot–basically, any root vegetable can be shredded along with, or instead of, Russet potatoes and fried in oil. How could that be bad?
When I was making latkes last night, I thought, “Why not make these as a potato side other times throughout the year?” They would be great served with any sort of stew–the latke being the perfect foil to a thick gravy. But the two ideas that I really can’t shake are, latkes replacing English muffins as the base for eggs benedict (might as well swap out the Canadian bacon for some smoked salmon to avoid any sacrilege) and mini-latkes as a blini-type hors d’oeuvres topped with sour cream and caviar. I’m sure recipes for both of these concepts abound but the ideas inspired me to share my latke recipe with you so that you may enjoy them any way you choose.
When I am in a traditionalist state of mind, I turn to David (The Latke King) Firestone’s Latkes in the New York Cookbook by Molly O’Neill. If you are not familiar with this cookbook, published in 1992 by the long time food columnist for The New York Times Magazine, it is the perfect gift for any New Yorker, former New Yorker (always a New Yorker) or New York-lover. Along with recipes from every iconic New York City establishment–from Horn & Hardart to Le Cirque to Lola’s (a Caribbean-Gospel restaurant that was one of my all-time favorite haunts)–it is chock full of New York history and personal anecdotes. Nightstand reading at its best. Anyway, I digress. Follow the self-professed Latke King’s recipe and you can’t go wrong.
Here’s to the start of the holiday season and eating anything that you damn well please until January 2nd. Enjoy!
- 2 1/2 lbs. Russet potatoes, scrubbed, unpeeled and quartered lengthwise (although I do peel them--your choice)
- 1 lg yellow onion, quartered
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/4 c matzoh meal*
- 4 to 5 tsp chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- olive oil
- unsweetened applesauce or sour cream, for serving
- Place onion in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse a few times until onion is diced into crunchy bits.
- Scrap the onion bits into a large bowl and replace steel blade with the medium-coarse shredding disk--no need to wash your food processor bowl.
- Feed the potato quarters into the processor feed tube and shred.
- When they are shredded, add them to the bowl with the onion and toss to combine.
- Set a colander over a small bowl in you sink and pour the potato mixture into the colander.
- Push out as much liquid as you can (using your hands or your spatula) and allow the liquid to collect in the bowl.
- Dump the shredded potato and onion mix back into the large bowl.
- Pour out the potato liquid from the small bowl but leave the starch that clings to the bottom of the bowl.
- Add the starch to the potato mixture, along with the eggs, matzoh meal, parsley, salt and pepper. Stir the mixture to combine and then let sit while you heat your cast iron skillet.
- Coat a large cast iron skillet with a thick film of olive oil. Over high heat, get the oil very hot.
- Using a 1/4-cup measure, start spooning the batter into the skillet (probably no more than 4 or 5 pancakes at a time). Flatten each with the back of the measuring cup or a spatula to a diameter of about 4-5 inches. Shape need not be perfectly round.
- Reduce heat to medium and cook the latkes until golden brown on one side, then flip and fry some more. About 5 minutes per side.
- Remove and place on several thicknesses of paper towels.
- Repeat process, adding more oil with each batch, until you run out of batter.
- Latkes can be kept warm on a baking sheet in a 200F oven until ready to serve.
- Serve with applesauce or sour cream.
- *Matzoh meal can be found in the Jewish or kosher section of most large supermarkets. If not, you can substitute flour.