You call that a latke?
Cooking up a Hanukkah tradition
Latkes, the all-time-favorite nosh at Hanukkah, are nothing more than humble potato pancakes. Just potatoes. Some grated onion. Eggs. Salt. No big deal, right?
Wrong! Latkes are a very big deal! And everybody has an opinion about the best way to make them—the best way to EAT them, for that matter! Do we make them flat or fluffy? Fried in olive oil or canola? Do we use Yukon Gold or Idaho? Flour or matzo meal? And for a real brain-twister: which is the best topping—applesauce or sour cream and sugar? Oy! Too many questions.
So, why all the fuss? For one thing, latkes are a symbolic food, a Jewish reminder of the miracle of Hanukkah. (Hey, since the ancient oil miraculously lasted eight days, eating food bathed in oil is the least we can do.) Making them just right has become a friendly obsession. When you add in the fact that they’re singularly delicious with endless variations, it’s no wonder they’ve become a culinary art form.
And talk about variations! There are sweet potato latkes, sour cream latkes, zucchini latkes, salmon latkes and even banana latkes, to name a few. Some chefs adore the countless possibilities. Others are purists and stick with potato latkes—the real deal for them. As my papa Harry would say, “Fancy-schmancy latkes? Feh! Old-fashioned is best!”
Old-fashioned, indeed. That basically means crispy, flavorful, heavenly...just like bubbe used to make. It also means whipping up a huge mess in the kitchen. There’s potato peeling! Soaking! Grating! Squeezing dry! Frying! No shortcuts allowed. What a production. Thank goodness it’s a once-a-year affair. But ah, the deliciousness of it all...a totally unforgettable, tradition-worthy delight.
So here’s to a plateful of warm Hanukkah happiness. Cook up your own Hanukkah tradition with our traditional latke and sweet potato and zucchini latke recipes. You should have seconds on such a blessing! Or whip up some more sweets to nosh on with our four traditional Hanukkah desserts.
Penny Krugman Howard is a freelance writer and freestyle mom. Her December home is a funky mix of menorah lights and snowman stockings...reflecting her own and her husband’s traditions. The family cat swings both ways.