Although we are not Jewish, we have a long-standing tradition of making and eating them every year sometime during Hanukkah. It started when my boys were quite young, and I was just beginning to teach them about the history, principles, and faith practices of the major world religions.
As part of that introduction, we read the delightful children’s book, Latkes and Applesauce, A Hanukkah Story by Fran Manushkin, with illustrations by Robin Spowart. The book offers a recipe for potato latkes near the back, and my boys begged me to make it, which I was glad to do and have them help me with it.
We muddled through the recipe that first time (and several times thereafter, truth be told), but the results were delicious.
And so a happy family holiday tradition was born.
The latkes I’ve made have gone through several variations over the years.
I’ve also experimented with different degrees of grating, from fine to more coarse. I still go back and forth on how fine to shred the potatoes. The finer the consistency, the easier it is to form the pancakes, but I rather like the texture offered by a coarser grind. This year, I went with that approach. Either way, they are gobbled up, so I would say it’s a matter of cook’s preference.
I used to make the traditional all-white-potato latkes, but a few years back I altered the recipe to incorporate sweet potatoes into the recipe. I like the added color and nutrition offered by this powerhouse vegetable and the slightly sweet flavor it lends.
The lion’s share of the work is in the grating of the potatoes and in the attention and turning required in the cooking process. Even with a food processor, or grating attachment on a mixer, it takes a good amount of time to prepare and leaves quite a few dishes piled up in the sink.
This is one recipe where I definitely recommend the use of such gadgets as a food processor.
I can only imagine how long it takes in households where the cooks grate the potatoes the old-fashioned, traditional way -- by hand. For small quantities that would be fine, but for my family it would make the preparation a daunting project indeed.
This meal is also much higher in calories than most of my meals. It uses a lot of oil, which is a major reason it tastes so darned good. After all, humans are geared to love fat.
Yes, I have managed to reduce some of the oil called for by oven-frying the latkes instead of deep frying them, and by using the muffin tin baking method that I describe below. But I don’t want anyone to harbor any illusions about this being a low fat meal. It’s most definitely not.
But that’s okay. Latkes are one of those special occasion meals that we prepare and eat only very rarely, which makes the work worthwhile and the calorie indulgence (relatively) guilt-free. That infrequency also heightens the taste experience.
Besides, latkes are cheap. Potatoes cost pennies, and sweet potatoes, eggs, onions and vegetable oil are all economical items. This entire recipe that makes approximately 50 latkes, or 8-12 servings comes in under $6, or between 50¢- 75¢ per portion of 4-8 latkes. Served with apple sauce, plain (full fat) yogurt or sour cream, and a tossed green salad, and the meal still comes in under $1.50 per person.
The muffin tin method is definitely less labor intense since it eliminates the need to turn the latkes halfway through the cooking process. It also requires substantially less oil. You simply brush some oil to coat each individual tin, and that’s it. No frying in oil at all.
However, this method requires multiple muffin pans - or a big one like the one shown above- if you want to get more than 12 ready within the allotted hour or so of bake time, whereas the oven frying method offers a faster cooking time and allows larger batches on cookie sheets.
I will say that the latkes prepared in the regular 12-size muffin tins were larger, so 3 of them would be a typical serving size. So for a family of 4 non-teenagers, 12 muffin-tin types would probably be enough for a meal.
The muffin latkes were also quite different in texture and appearance from the fried ones; they were less crispy, and thicker and fluffier, with a more definite, fuller shape.
They were quite delicious and definitely healthier than the more traditional ones, but just a bit of a different taste experience.
You can decide for yourself which cooking approach you’d like to use.
Quantities - The recipe I use makes a large number of latkes because I typically had to think of my 4 teen males and their appetites. We never get more than one dinner meal and a few lunches out of this recipe. For me, this constitutes a real labor of love, given the work that goes into it.
You can opt to use smaller quantities if your household is smaller, or you have young children. I provide a recipe that cuts the yield in half. Or you might decide to use my larger quantities, and have them as leftovers for more than one dinner and a few lunches. The process is exactly the same for both, but the proportions are different, of course.
Reheating - To reheat latkes, I recommend microwaving a plate of them for about 2-3 minutes on low power, and then popping them in the toaster oven or regular pre-heated oven and baking or toasting them for about 5-10 minutes to keep their crispiness.
Here are the recipes:
6 medium potatoes
3 large sweet potatoes (or any combination of sweet potatoes and potatoes you'd like)
1 large onion
6 large eggs
½ cup canola oil
½ cup flour or matzo meal, or crushed saltine crackers or potato starch
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
Small Quantity Recipe (makes approximately 20-25 latkes, or 12 muffin-tin types)
4 medium potatoes
1 large sweet potato (or any combination of sweet potatoes and potatoes you'd like)
1 medium onion
¼ cup oil
¼ cup flour, or matzo meal, or crushed saltine crackers
½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
½ teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
PROCEDURE CONTINUES AFTER PHOTOS
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Wash and scrub the white potatoes. Cut off any damaged parts. You can peel them, too, if you’d prefer, but there is no need.
- Shred or grate the potatoes into a large bowl or pot.
- Rinse the grated potatoes thoroughly in cold water and leave them covered with water while you go on to prepare the sweet potatoes and onion.
- Peel the sweet potatoes. Grate them in a food processor or grating attachment for a mixer. Add them to the grated potatoes.
- Cut off the ends of the onion, peel it, and dice it quite fine.
- Beat the eggs in a small bowl.
- Drain the potatoes in a colander. Give them some good shakes and squeeze them as much as possible to get rid of as much water as possible.
- Mix all the ingredients (white potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, oil flour or meal, eggs, salt and pepper) together in a large bowl until everything is well blended and distributed.
- Spread a few tablespoons of canola or other vegetable oil on the bottom of a cookie sheet or two.
- Place the pan in the oven for a minute or two to heat up the oil.
- Remove the pan from the oven and quickly close the door. Working fairly quickly, drop a large spoonful of the latke mix onto the pre-heated cookie sheet. Press them down carefully with the back of a spatula.
- Place the cookie sheet in the oven and set the timer for 10 minutes.
- When the timer goes off, remove the pan from the oven and place it on the stove top. Close the oven door immediately.
- Carefully turn each latke. Compress each one with the back of the spatula.
- Return the cookie sheet to the oven and set the timer for another 10 minutes.
- When the timer goes off, remove the pan and immediately close the oven door. Check the latkes for the desired crispness and color. If you think they need more time, return them to the oven for another 5 minutes or so. When they are done, transfer them to a serving plate.
- Repeat the process as many times as you need to until all the latke mix is cooked.
- Serve the latkes with yogurt (full fat recommended) or sour cream, unsweetened apple sauce, and a tossed green salad for a delicious, festive meal.
MUFFIN TIN METHOD IS BELOW.
- Prepare the ingredients as described in steps 1-9 above.
- Brush the cups of the muffin pan with oil.
- Spoon the latke mixture into each tin, to about a 1-2 inch thickness. I had shallow tins in the pan I was using, so I filled them right to the top. Compress the mixture with the back of the spoon.
- Place the pan in the preheated oven and set the timer for 45 minutes. Check the latkes at that time to see if they are the desired brownness and crispiness. It will not be as crispy as when they are cooked in oil. Up to an hour of time may be needed to get the desired results.
- While the latkes are baking, get your salad ready, as well as the yogurt or sour cream, and the apple sauce.
- Remove the pan from the oven and cut all around the edges of the latkes to loosen them. Pop them out of the tins or scoop and scrape them out with a soup spoon onto a plate.
- Get the tin ready for another batch, if necessary and repeat the process.
- Serve as suggested above in step 20.