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.
Friday, December 11th was the first night of Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday that is celebrated for eight days and nights. Among the traditions of Hanukkah are lighting the menorah and making latkes (potato pancakes).
On Saturday, I joined three generations of my friend Tina’s family 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. Drying the grated potatoes on paper towels or a clean dish towel. Cover and press with paper towels also.
2. Only peanut oil imparts the desired flavor.
3. Don’t use a non-stick pan – you won’t get the desired crispiness.
We love crisp latkes, but it's easy to forget important details when you make them only once a year!
- 6 large russet potatoes
- 3 onions, quartered
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/4-1/2 cup flour
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- freshly ground pepper
Grate potatoes by hand using the largest holes on the grater. A food processor can be used for the onions, place the onions in a colander in the sink to drain, use a wooden spoon to release as much liquid as you can from the onions. Transfer grated potatoes to a sieve and set over a large bowl to drain. Press down with a wooden spoon to release liquid into bowl. Use your hands to squeeze remaining moisture from potatoes, reserve only the white starchy liquid at the very bottom. Spread potatoes onto paper towels. Place paper towels on top. * It is important that the potatoes are dry or they won’t brown well and will be mushy.*
Put potatoes and onion in a large bowl. Mix in the reserved starchy liquid, eggs, flour, salt & pepper.
Heat ¼ inch of peanut oil in cast iron or other frying pan (not non-stick) over med-high heat. When oil is smoky, use a measuring cup or ice cream scoop to add ⅓ cup batter for each latke. Press down to flatten. Cook until golden brown – about 2-3 minutes, then turn over and cook another 2-3 minutes. Drain on paper towel and transfer to baking pan in 200 degree oven to keep warm.
Enjoy the latkes traditional style – with some applesauce and sour cream, or with a gourmet touch – with lox (smoked salmon), creme fraiche, and chives.
Recipe adapted from a 1999 LA Times article.