Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hanukkah Latkes

Last night was the first night of Hanukkah and no Hanukkah is complete without latkes. These traditional potato pancakes are made using grated potatoes and onions, bound together with some egg and matzo meal or flour, and then fried. Of course there are other variations that can include zucchini or carrot, or even sweet potato instead of regular, but I wanted to stick to the traditional latkes that I know and love.

I have never actually made latkes before, though I have consumed plenty every year, and needed to look up a recipe before I started to prepare them on my own. Most of the recipes were pretty standard with slight differences between them, however the one thing that stood out across the board was the need to wring out all of the moisture from the potatoes. All of the recipes suggested different ways of doing this, but each emphasized the importance of this step. Since it was outlined as being so important, I of course made sure to follow instructions but let me just was hard! No matter how many times I thought I was done, another squeeze would produce more liquid. My eyes were watering from the onions and I was wiping at them with the sleeves of my shirt. When I finally finished I had to go to the bathroom to wash off some of the tears that had rolled down my cheeks.

To be honest, these latkes were not a solitary effort; although I made the batter my mom was the one who actually fried them. While she worked on getting the latkes ready, I made a salad to go along with our meal. Once everything was ready, my brother set the table and everyone gathered for dinner. The only thing missing were glasses for our drinks so I went and grabbed some. Just as I was setting them down I accidentally dropped a glass and it fell right on top of another one. Instantly shards of glass flew across the table and landed on all of the plates and food. However the miracle of Hanukkah blessed my family because at that moment, the only thing missing from the table was the plate of latkes which my mom held in her hands, ready to set it down. Luckily for us, our latkes survived my clumsy accident and we were still able to enjoy them just as planned, albeit with a fresh set of dinnerware and a new salad that I quickly put together. I guess the miracle of Hanukkah extends to anything with oil in it...menorahs and fried food.

Hanukkah Latkes
  • 8 medium sized Russet potatoes (or some other variety if you prefer)
  • 2 large onions
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup matzo meal (or flour)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: Handful of chives or green onions, chopped finely
  • Oil (for frying)
  1. Peel the potatoes and onions. Line a large strainer with a cheesecloth and place in the sink. Grate the potatoes and onions using the coarse holes of a box grater, alternating between the two, and place the shreds in the lined strainer. Alternatively, use the shredding disc on the food processor and alternate putting through chunks of potato and onion. 
  2. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth so that all of the shreds are enclosed, then twist and squeeze to wring out as much liquid as possible. Do this in batches so that the load is more manageable and it will make it easier to squeeze out the liquid. Once the mixture is as dry as possible, transfer it to a large bowl and repeat with the remaining shreds.
  3. Add the salt, eggs, matzo meal, salt and pepper, and chives/green onions if using, to the potato-onion mixture and stir well to combine.
  4. Pour enough oil into a frying pan so that it covers the entire bottom and comes about 1-2 cm up the sides. Heat over high heat until the oil gets hot then reduce to medium. Take about 3 tablespoons of the mixture and shape into an oval. Place in the pan and flatten it out slightly so that it forms a small pancake. Repeat until the pan is filled, but the latkes are not touching.
  5. Fry each latke for about 3-5 minutes per side, or until each side is well browned. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to absorb some of the oil. Repeat until all of the latkes are cooked. 
Note: The latkes taste best when served immediately, alongside some sour cream or applesauce for dipping. However, they can also be cooled and then stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer with layers of parchment paper between them to keep from sticking. To reheat, place them in a single layer on a baking tray in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10-15 minutes, or until they start to sizzle.

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