Let’s Talk Latkes

Hanukkah may be the Festival of Lights – but it’s also the Festival of Latkes.
December 7, 2023
Alon Shaya’s Latkes Photo courtesy of Pomegranate Hospitality

Hanukkah may be the Festival of Lights – but it’s also the Festival of Latkes. Here are some latke recipes for your holiday celebrations.

“Lemon zest, freshly grated nutmeg, and lots of scallions really enhance the flavor of latkes,” Alon Shaya told the Journal. 

Shaya is chef-partner of Pomegranate Hospitality and author of “Shaya: An Odyssey of Food, My Journey Back to Israel.”

“For toppings, I like homemade applesauce, made with pomegranate molasses and baharat, and labneh in lieu of sour cream for a thicker, richer texture,” he said. “To finish things off, why not add a scoop of salmon caviar?”

Alon Shaya’s Latkes

3 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
½ yellow onion
3 eggs, separated
¼ tsp cream of tartar
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup sliced scallions
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Zest and juice from ½ lemon
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 ½ cups ghee

Grate the potatoes and onion on the coarse side of a box grater. Add to a strainer lined with a clean dish towel and wring it out to remove as much liquid as possible.
Add the egg whites and cream of tartar to a mixing bowl and whisk vigorously until the whites are very frothy and almost make soft peaks when you lift the whisk. Set aside.
Put the grated potatoes and onion in a separate bowl and fold in the cornstarch, scallions, nutmeg, and lemon zest and juice until fully incorporated. Do the same with the yolks and salt.
Add the whisked egg whites and use a spatula or wooden spoon to very gently incorporate.
Warm the ghee in a large skillet over medium heat. Use a ½-cup measure to scoop the latke batter into the pan, making sure not to overcrowd them. Cook until the latkes are deeply golden on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side.Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and repeat with the remaining latkes. Serve with applesauce, labneh or your favorite topping.

Master Latke
Photo courtesy of La Boite

Lior Lev Sercarz’s Master Latke recipe uses the microwave to “set” the starch. “You can make many small crispy batches without them oxidizing,” Chef Lior, who is owner of La Boîte in New York City, co-founder of the Galilee Culinary Institute and author of “ A Middle Eastern Pantry,” told the Journal.

For a sweet potato version, combine one cup of grated potato with two cups of grated sweet potato. For a zucchini version, combine one cup of grated potato with two cups of grated zucchini. Another option: combine one cup each of potato, sweet potato and zucchini.

Lior Lev Sercarz’s Master Latke

Yield: 10 Latkes
1 pint grated potato (2 cups)
1 egg
1 Tbsp cornstarch or flour
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp granulated onion
1 tsp baking powder
Oil for frying

Quick Apple Sauce
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp water
4 cups apples, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp Sri Lanka blend
1 Tbsp cornstarch mixed with 1 Tbsp water

Spread the grated potato onto a flat plate and cover with plastic wrap. I like to use a 9 “-10″ glass pie plate as the sides come in handy.
Microwave on high 2-3. You want the potatoes to be warmed through and still raw but not cooked or clumped.
When ready, mix the potatoes with a fork to fluff, separate, and cool the potatoes. The potatoes should cool to room temperature.
Add the egg, cornstarch, salt, onion powder and baking powder to combine well.
Prepare a tray with a cooling rack or a bed of paper towels.
Heat a heavy bottom skillet with a 1/4” of oil, until shimmering.
Drop the latke mix in ¼ cup piles and press down lightly to form 1/2-inch thick patty shapes. You want even thicknesses with some perfectly imperfect edges. Resist the urge to smash the cake here, and after flipping, as it will make them dense.
Fry the latkes in small batches on low-medium heat. The oil should be gently bubbling around the edges.
Note that when cooked, you can still see and taste the layers of grated potato inside. High five.
Keep cooking latkes until all of the batter is cooked.

Make-Ahead Applesauce
Pulse the apple chunks in a food processor with the lemon juice, pinch of salt and Sri Lanka until finely chopped. The apples can also be grated.
In a small, heavy, bottom sauté pan, cook the sugar and water to an amber caramel.
Add the rest of the ingredients and bring back to a boil. Resist the urge to stir the caramel at this point; it will only stick to your spoon instead of staying in the applesauce.
Once at a boil, simmer for 20 minutes or until the fruit is cooked and the jam is sticky and shiny.
Drizzle in your cornstarch and water mixture and stir to combine well, while still simmering.
Remove from heat and store.

Sweet Potato Latkes
Photo courtesy of Dawn Lerman

Dawn Lerman’s dad always told her that potato pancakes made all the problems in the world melt away.

“It reminded him of the best part of his childhood,” Lerman, nutritionist and author of “My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family, With Recipes,” told the Journal.

Lerman agreed, but found a way to make them a little lighter, sweeter and more festive.

“I bake them instead of frying them and use sweet potatoes for a burst of flavor and color,” she said. “All the memories without all the guilt.”

Lerman’s recipe includes traditional frying instructions, as well as a way to bake them in muffin tins. They also freeze well, making them perfect to prepare in advance.

Dawn Lerman’s Sweet Potato Latkes

Yield: 8 pancakes or muffins
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 large eggs, beaten
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour, or use whole-wheat or almond flour
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp brown sugar or monk fruit
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp fine sea salt
Oil for frying or nonstick spray for muffin tins
Applesauce, plain yogurt or sour cream for topping (optional)

Using the fine side of a grater or a food processor, grate the potatoes. Then press out any excess moisture. Transfer the potatoes and the onions to a large bowl, and thoroughly combine with the eggs, flour, lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

Baking Instructions
Position the rack in the middle and heat the oven to 400°F. Grease the muffin tins with oil or nonstick cooking spray. Using a large spoon, divide the mixture across the muffin cups. Transfer the muffin tin to the oven and bake the latkes for 25 minutes, or until they are golden brown and cooked through. Note: Can also be baked in a baking pan — like a kugel.

Frying Instructions
In a large skillet set over high heat, warm enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan until just before it starts to smoke.
Using a large spoon, add the latke batter to the pan, and using a spatula, shape and flatten the batter into pancakes. Do not overcrowd the pan; you may need to do this in batches.
Immediately decrease the heat to medium and cook the latkes until golden brown on each side, approximately 4 minutes on one side and 3 minutes on the other side.
Flip the latke only when it is halfway cooked through; otherwise it will break apart. Repeat with the remaining batter.
Serve the latkes topped with applesauce, yogurt or sour cream, if desired.

Tip: If the latke batter is too watery, add a bit more flour; if it is too thick, add a bit of the beaten egg yolk.

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