December 1st marks the beginning of Hanukkah and the eight-day Festival of Lights celebration.The Hanukkah ritual of lighting the menorah at sundown commemorates the Maccabees’ triumph over the oppressive Syrian king and how one day’s supply of oil miraculously burned for eight days and nights following their victory. One of the traditional foods of Hanukkah is latkes where the oil used for frying also symbolizes the oil that lasted eight days.
Here my friend Tina demonstrates how to make latkes and gives us a few tips to ensure perfect crispy latkes.
Last year I joined Tina, her mother-in-law Celia, and her daughter Diana and watched and learned as she prepared latkes for the second night of Hanukkah. Her son Jason helped peel the potatoes and Tina gave me some valuable tips on making the perfect latke: crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. She uses a recipe that she copied from a December 1999 L.A. Times article as a guideline, since she only makes latkes once a year it’s easy to forget the importance of certain details such as:
1. It’s OK to use a food processor to chop all the onions, but the potatoes must be grated by hand – using a food processor results in gummy potatoes.
2. Dry the grated potatoes on paper towels or a clean dish towel. Cover and press with paper towels also.
3. Only peanut oil imparts the desired flavor.
4. Don’t use a non-stick pan – you won’t get the desired crispiness.
Having lived in California for 28 years with no family at all to celebrate holidays with, I firmly believe in the importance of creating your own family traditions. But I also find comfort in the past and feel that, especially these days, with family members often scattered far and wide, sharing memories from your childhood and preserving time-worn rituals beyond gift giving can provide your children with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the meaning behind religious and non-religious holidays. Food is always a significant part of any celebration and simple experiences like baking cookies, preparing tamales, or helping mom make latkes are priceless.
Many cooks are experimenting with using different vegetables and oils in their search for a different or healthier latke, a recent Los Angeles Times article had some good suggestions.
I decided to make sweet potato latkes because I’ve been on a bit of sweet potato kick. They’re so nutritious, chock full of antioxidants and beta carotene, and can be prepared in as many ways as regular potatoes: fries, roasted, mashed, au gratin, hash, salad, etc. So why not latkes… or potato pancakes.
Sweet Potato Latkes
2 medium sized sweet potatoes, grated
½ large red onion, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
salt and pepper (I used lemon pepper)
1 tablespoon flour
Peanut oil for frying
Makes 10 latkes
Put the grated onion in a fine sieve and press the liquid out. The sweet potatoes don’t have as much moisture as regular potatoes but still use paper towels to absorb excess moisture. Mix all the ingredients together while sprinkling in a tablespoon or so of flour to bind it together. Heat 3 tablespoons of peanut oil over med-high heat and carefully add spoonfuls of the potato mixture, flattened out with your hand, to the hot oil. Fry for 3-4 minutes until browned and turn over to brown the other side. If the oil starts smoking or the latkes brown too quickly, lower the heat a bit. Drain on paper towels.