I love latkes. When my girls were babies, I discovered that the terms of endearment falling from my lips while I cooed over them almost all related to food – “latke,” “noodle,” “dumpling,” “knish” and “kneidel,” each of these words seemed just right to describe my beautiful, plump, and perfect children. It didn’t hurt, I’m sure, that my firstborn came into the world on the first day of Hanukkah, my own little latke of joy. A food good enough to share its name with a most beloved baby must be a good food, indeed.
Latkes are easy to make, and don’t really require a recipe once you get the basic concept. There are many variations on the theme: My friend Meredith makes hers of sweet potatoes seasoned with cumin, coriander, and curry. Once a year, I make this version that combines tart apple with the potatoes and tops everything with smoked salmon (lox or hard smoked, either tastes great), and horseradish creme fraiche.
Most of the time, I stick with the basic potato and onion variety. This is my kids’ favorite, and I’m happy to stand over the hot stove, cooking the perfume of onions and oil into my hair and clothes. Yes, there are oven-fried latke recipes that are spritzed with just a hint of oil, but I think those miss the point – Oil is a big part of the Hanukkah story, key to one of the miracles we remember. This is not the time to go easy on the oil; you can do that the rest of the year. I started cooking mine without any matzoh meal or flour during our gluten-free years, and I’ll never go back – So long as you wring your potatoes out well (more on that below), you really don’t need anything but egg to bind them.
Make your own latkes even if it’s not your holiday – They’re delicious no matter your religion. If you’re new to Hanukkah, G-dcast has a short animated movie you and your family might enjoy.
Latkes, Gluten-Free Version:
- 6-8 Russet potatoes (8 if they’re small, 6 if they’re gigantic)
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 large eggs
- Spices of your choice (I love marjoram and tarragon, but not together)
- Oil – Anything that works for high heat will be fine
- Large heavy skillet, preferably cast iron
- Grate the potatoes into a large bowl. Don’t use your food processor unless you have a blade that will make long, narrow shreds. You need long, narrow shreds to make lacy, crisp latkes.
- Grate the onion on top of the potatoes. If you can’t stand to grate it by hand, use a food processor or chop it as fine as humanly possible with a knife.
- Put the shredded potatoes and onion onto a very clean kitchen towel or thick cheesecloth. Squeeze hard to wring every last drop of moisture out of the mass. Then squeeze some more.
- Empty any liquid out of the large bowl and put the squeezed potatoes and onions back into it.
- Add the eggs, salt, and spices of your choice.
- Mix well by hand – You’ll get better coverage of egg on potato this way than by stirring with a spoon.
- Heat 1/4″ – 1/2″ of oil in your heavy skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle a strand of potato instantly, start frying them up. Add more oil as needed between batches to keep the level where you want it, allowing new oil to heat back up before adding new latkes. You’ll also want to adjust the heat as time goes on – Too hot and the outsides will burn before the insides cook; too cold and you’ll have greasy sponges.
- Add a spoonful of latke batter to the oil (I use a regular soup spoon for this). Set the batter gently into the oil, then immediately pat it into an even, flat disc. Too thick and the center won’t cook, too thin and it will fall apart. Think of the first few as an experiment to check oil temperature and technique; you’ll quickly get the hang of it.
- When each latke is nicely browned underneath, flip it and cook long enough to brown the other side. Don’t put too many in your pan at once. You want a decent buffer of hot oil around each latke; this keeps the oil’s temperature from dropping too much, which in turn keeps the latkes crisp instead of soggy.
- No matter how well you squeezed the potatoes, more liquid will appear in the bowl. Don’t stir it into the batter! Just let it pool, and do your best not to scoop any of it up.
- Drain on a stack of towels or a crumpled paper bag.
- Serve immediately with the toppings of your choice. Salt and pepper, definitely. Sour cream and applesauce are traditional. I love mine with homemade kimchi.