This was originally published on Medium.com last year during Hanukkah before It's Just Stuff's website was live but we thought it was timeless enough to share again this with the holiday starting next Sunday at sundown...Enjoy!
As Jews around the world are celebrating Hanukkah, and in ways we never imagined even a year ago as we are all navigating the holidays in the midst of a lingering pandemic, I can only think about the smell and taste of latkes. These delicious crispy potato pancakes are a holiday tradition to commemorate the “miracle” that occurred centuries ago when it was thought there was only enough oil left after the destruction of an ancient temple to last one night, but alas, the menorah or “candelabra” remained lit for 8 nights.
Meanwhile, the smell of fried food lingers significantly longer in your home so if that matters to you I highly recommend setting up a frying station outdoors…
…or befriending someone like me who makes a bazillion latkes one day every year during Hanukkah and will happily deliver them to you…
…even during a pandemic…
…assuming you live within a 10 mile radius of Boulder CO.
I do have my limits as to the lengths I will go to for friends…just saying…especially on a cold and dreary day along the Front Range.
Anyway, when I lived in FL, I could be outside in December for hours on the lanai of my home. Sometimes it would be unbearably hot and humid even at that time of the year, but I usually recruited my family to do shifts standing over the two electric frying pans I use for the one day a year latke ritual when I would have a gathering of 50–100 people at my home.
Hundreds of latkes.
One year I made over 600!
And yes, every single one was gone within the first hour.
It’s totally worth aggravating my sciatica as well as my hair smelling like french fries for the next 3 washings.
But here in Colorado, it depends on the day and #Latkepalooza2020 -Pandemic Version was yesterday.
And it was cold.
And there was no sun.
And as much as I can tolerate the winters here much more than the ones I endured growing up in Michigan or living in New York City throughout my twenties and thirties, I really don’t enjoy days like we had yesterday.
That being said, I still considered setting up everything on my apartment patio to avoid the mess and smell inside, but decided my fingers didn’t need to suffer frostbite. I sucked it up and made them in my kitchen. I did have the sliding door open the entire time, though, for ventilation and surprisingly, 24 hours later there is barely a whiff of fried oil. And I also covered my counter with tin foil to make the cleanup easier.
There is nothing easy about the clean-up or anything else about making latkes that is “easy”. I truly believe my ancestors created recipes that mirrored the pain and suffering they were experiencing living in the shtetls of Eastern Europe.
I’m kidding…sort of…but, I mean, come on…I can at least have the convenience of a food processor in the 21st century to make grating/processing the potatoes easier. Hand grating 10 pounds of those things will give you a great arm workout, but be sure to have a lot of Band-Aids around to stop the bleeding your knuckles will no doubt experience.
But I digress…
As someone who went to culinary school, worked in the food industry for many years and now runs a home organizing business full-time, I think I have a really great system for this particular holiday tradition and offer a few tips below.
As far as a recipe is concerned, I posted this video yesterday on social media while I was in the middle of frying and a friend then asked if I could share mine.
The irony of “This Girl Is On Fire” by Alicia Keys playing in the background was not lost on me in the moment. For that matter, the song has been playing in the background of my life for years as one of my many female empowerment theme songs.
But I digressed again…
Honestly, I don’t have a recipe written down because it’s just one of those things I kind of do on autopilot. I used to watch my mother make them and it just became a muscle memory thing. She learned from watching her grandmother who came from Eastern Europe when she was only 12 at the turn of the 20th century (by herself but that is a whole other story/blog). My great-grandmother, of course, never used a machine to do anything so her knuckles were battered by a hand grater every Hanukkah until she died at the age of 84. I was 10 at the time but I can still visualize her sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table methodically peeling and grating for hours.
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of latke recipes online these days. I even came across one for Fried Pickle Latkes with Everything Bagel Ranch from WhatJewWannaEat.com . And while I love pickles, I am a bit of a purist/traditionalist when if comes to latkes at this time of the year. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with wanting to still feel connected to my mother during the holidays. In years past I have gone a little rogue and made sweet potato, zucchini or carrot ones, but in recent years I’ve kept it simple. The ingredients I use are pretty standard…potatoes, onions, eggs, flour (substitute your gluten-free option if necessary), salt and white pepper to taste.
So without further adieu, here are my best tips and tricks for making what I think are the best latkes.
Use an electric frying pan…attempting to make more than a few in a regular pan on the stove will take longer and not produce the same results…in my opinion of course. I actually have two. Correction…I had two. Unfortunately, somehow they both fell off my counter yesterday as I was getting organized and one bounced a few times on the tile and the base broke, resulting in one end lower than the other and resulting in some rather uneven frying. I was able to use it this one last time but it is now in the electric frying pan graveyard…aka, my apartment complex dumpster.
As already mentioned, use a food processor to grate the potatoes…your knuckles absolutely will thank you. In my family, though, we are all about texture so the potatoes go through two additional rounds in the food processor by taking 1/3 of the grated potatoes and put them back in the bowl with the regular blade and roughly chop them so they are minced but not pureed. Take out that 1/3 and put the remaining 1/3 in and process until pureed. Combine the three “textures” together in a large colander lined with cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer and squeeze as much of the liquid out.
I also puree the onion and squeeze out the juices. Otherwise the onion can produce a bitter flavor. BTW…I do the same thing when making guacamole. I learned that trick when working in a small gourmet take-out shop in NYC decades ago.
At one point in time, my mother sent me an article that mentioned dissolving a vitamin C tablet and adding it to the grated potatoes to prevent them from turning black as the air oxidizes the cut surfaces. It actually does work and I recommend it if you are going to prep your latke batter several hours or more in advance before frying but, otherwise, don’t bother. The oxidization doesn’t affect the flavor…it is just less appealing to the eye. I promise they will taste exactly the same.
Once all of the ingredients are combined I use a slotted spoon to scoop up enough of the potato mixture to make a pancake and use the back of another spoon to squeeze out a little more of the liquid and then drop it into the hot oil and use a spatula to flatten out each pancake for extra crispy thin latkes. It is the only way I make them.
2021 update: A new electric frying pan has been purchased
and will definitely be used alongside the one
that did not go to the dumpster last year
so balance has been restored ✌
For the record, if you prefer thicker latkes, you’ll need to find another friend to make them for you because when it comes to two things in life that my mother taught me how to make I will never compromise my methodology. Latkes are definitely one and chocolate chip cookies would be the other. I made sure both men I married knew that before we tied the knot. Fortunately, neither of them ever asked me to alter my recipes or the marriages probably would have ended even sooner.
Also for the record, I made close to two hundred latkes yesterday and they all got delivered to various friends and clients that had requested them except for about a dozen that are in my freezer. I may give up 6 of them to one more person but the other 6 are mine to savor through the remainder of Hanukkah.
Oh, who am I kidding…they will be gone tonight!
Be safe…be well…and to all celebrating, Happy Hanukkah.