Three Ways to Enjoy the Classic Hanukkah Treat Latkes. Lia Crowe photography

For The Love Of Latkes

Three Ways to Enjoy this Classic Hanukkah Treat

  • Dec. 16, 2020 7:00 a.m.

– Words By Ellie Shortt Photos by Lia Crowe

So these unassuming little latkes really represent triumph over evil, freedom from oppression, hope and salvation, and unexpected miracles—things we could all sink our teeth into these days especially.

When you hear the word “latke”what comes to mind? For many it’s some sort of potato pancake, perhaps the base of a funky benny at a hip brunch spot or it might be just an awkwardly spelled word that provides potential ambiguity in pronunciation (I personally say lat-kah, not lat-kee for the record).

For me, what comes immediately to mind is the playful glow of candlelight dancing on the walls, and the smell of hot oil lingering in the house. It’s a timeless swirl of sweet, savoury and creamy, as applesauce, sour cream and crispy-fried potatoes layer together in each perfect bite. It’s also family time, deep-belly laugher, festive songs and sore thumbs from spinning dreidels for hours.

Truly, Hanukkah touches all senses, the most important of all, a special feeling of nostalgia in my heart. I’m transported to a vision of my brothers and me in a sort of family assembly line of peeling, grating and mixing, ski-goggles on to help diminish the teary effects of chopping through pounds of onions. The windows are all wide open in a feeble attempt to diminish that inevitable oily smog, all of us bundled in sweaters and jackets as the cool December air filters in. It’s funny how a humble potato pancake can conjure up so many memories, so much emotion and so much sensory association. But perhaps that’s the beauty of classic comforts and nostalgic nosh—it’s often less about the food itself and more so how it makes one feel and what it represents.

Originating in Eastern Europe sometime around the Middle Ages, the word latke gets its start (via Yiddish) from the East Slavic word oladka, a diminutive from oladya, or “small pancake,” and that Slavic word is derived from the ancient Greek diminutive of “olive oil” or “oily substance.” The use of potatoes and onion are obvious—two classic ingredients in Eastern European cuisine —but what’s the obsession over all the oil? Well, in short, Hanukkah celebrates the victory of a small group of Jewish rebels over an oppressive Selucid monarchy, and commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Once the temple was rededicated, the Jewish people were eager to relight their ritual candelabrum, called a menorah, but only had one day’s worth of oil. This small amount of oil miraculously burned for eight days, which is the reason Jewish people light the special Hanukkah menorah (hanukkiah) for eight days. Jewish people also honour the miracle of the oil by eating oily foods, including of course, latkes. So these unassuming little latkes really represent triumph over evil, freedom from oppression, hope and salvation, and unexpected miracles—things we could all sink our teeth into these days especially.

I always make a batch of latkes on the first night of Hanukkah. As a pragmatic adult with a heavy reliance on kitchen tools, I use the grating function on my food processor for both the potatoes and the onions, thus saving time and diminishing the need for the ski-goggle fashion statement of my youth. Windows are still wide open of course (because that oily aroma is intense and unavoidable), but I also implement hood vents, essential oil diffusions and an air purifier to expedite the de-odourizing process.

With an adventurous palate and unquenchable desire to experiment with as many alternative ingredients as possible (or, more accurately, what just so happens to be in my fridge at the time), I also often deviate from the tried-and-true potato-only approach. Root veggies, colourful tubers, leafy greens—I’ve found great delight in exploring the many ways to make a savoury pancake, still drawing upon the basics of grated, egg-mixed and flour-bound patties, although my choice of flour varies significantly.

Yes, cultural and nostalgic customs still live strong in our household around Hanukkah, but the evolution of that traditional base is ever-expanding. So today, I share three of my favourite iterations of the latke—a Moroccan-inspired, spiced-root vegetable option for the more adventurous; a green-goodness and low-starch take for the health focused; and a classic, simple and winning recipe of the basic potato latke for the traditionalists. Try the one that resonates with you the most, or perhaps all three for a fun and festive latke party and see how this once seemingly insignificant little fritter conjures up whole new meanings and sensory associations next time you hear the word latke.

For the Traditionalist: Classic Potato Latkes

Makes about 12 large or 24 small latkes

Ingredients

  • 3 lb. russet potatoes (about 4–6 large/medium)
  • 1 lb. onions (about 2 medium)
  • 1/4 cup flour (I usually just use all-purpose, but breadcrumbs also work well)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2-3 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 large eggs
  • Oil as needed (I like to use olive oil for this recipe)

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 325 F and top a baking sheet with a wired cooling rack. Lay out some thick layers of paper towel on another baking sheet or even your kitchen counter near your stovetop
  • Peel the potatoes and onions, and using the large holes of a box grater or the grater disk on a food processor, grate the potatoes and onions. *Option: if you want your latkes to be extra crispy, transfer the grated potatoes and onion to a large kitchen towel, gather the ends of the towel, twist over your sink and squeeze firmly to wring out as much liquid as possible before transferring to a bowl
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, pepper and eggs until smooth. Add the potato-onion mixture and mix until well coated (the latke mixture should be wet and thick, but not soupy. You can also mix in another egg if you’re finding it too dry)
  • In a large frying pan, heat 2 to 4 Tbsp of oil over medium-high heat. Drop a small amount of latke mixture into the pan—if the oil sizzles around the edges, it’s ready (do not let the oil smoke though)
  • Working in batches and adding more oil to the skillet as needed to maintain about 1/8inches of oil, drop large spoonfuls of the mixture into the pan, pressing gently with the back of a spoon or spatula to flatten slightly (if the mixture becomes watery between batches, mix to incorporate, but do not drain at this point)
  • Cook the latkes until golden brown and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side (if you’re noticing small pieces of latke mixture floating in the oil start to burn, carefully strain or wipe out)
  • Transfer the latkes to the paper towel to drain, and then transfer them to the prepared wire rack. Place the wired-rack-topped baking sheet with latkes in the oven to keep warm and crisp while cooking the remaining latkes

Latkes are served here with Avalon Dairy organic sour cream, smoked salmon, and dill.

For the Adventurist: Spiced Root Veggies Latkes

Makes about 12 large or 24 small latkes

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. yam or sweet potato (about 1 medium)
  • 1 lb. carrot (about 2 large/medium)
  • 1 lb. parsnip (about 2 large/medium)
  • 1 lb. onions (about 2 medium)
  • 1/4 cup flour (I like to use coconut flour for this recipe)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2-3 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp ginger
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp
  • 4 large eggs
  • Oil as needed (I like to use coconut oil for this recipe)

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 325 F and top a baking sheet with a wired cooling rack. Lay out some thick layers of paper towel on another baking sheet or even your kitchen counter near your stovetop
  • Peel sweet potato/yam, carrot, parsnip and onions, and using the large holes of a box grater or the grater disk on a food processor, grate sweet potato/yam, carrot, parsnip and onions. *Note: you definitely do not have to strain the vegetables in this recipe as they’re more dry than the other options (plus the coconut flour is more absorbent if you’re using that as a flour)
  • In a large bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, pepper, spices and eggs until smooth. Add the veggie-onion mixture, and mix until well coated (the latke mixture should be wet and thick, but not soupy. You can also mix in another egg if you’re finding it too dry)
  • In a large frying pan, heat 2-4 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Drop a small amount of latke mixture into the pan—if the oil sizzles around the edges, it’s ready (do not let the oil smoke, though)
  • Working in batches and adding more oil to the skillet as needed to maintain about 1/8inches of oil, drop large spoonfuls of the mixture into the pan, pressing gently with the back of a spoon or spatula to flatten slightly
  • Cook the latkes until golden brown and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side (if you’re noticing small pieces of latke mixture floating in the oil start to burn, carefully strain or wipe out)
  • Transfer the latkes to the paper towel to drain, and then transfer them to the prepared wire rack. Place the wired-rack-topped baking sheet with latkes in the oven to keep warm and crisp while cooking the remaining latkes

Latkes are served here with Tree Island Greek Yogurt and cinnamon spiced apple sauce, and topped with thyme and a sprinkling of cinnamon.

For the Health Nut: Kale and Zucchini Latkes

Makes about 24 latkes

Ingredients

  • 2 lb. zucchini (about 2 medium)
  • 1 lb. kale (about 1 big bunch)
  • 1 lb. onions (about 2 medium)
  • 1/2 cup flour (I like to use almond flour for this recipe)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2-3 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp fresh chives, minced
  • 1 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced
  • 3 large eggs
  • Oil as needed (I like to use avocado oil for this recipe)

Directions

  • Preheat your oven to 325 F and top a baking sheet with a wired cooling rack. Lay out some thick layers of paper towel on another baking sheet or even your kitchen counter near your stovetop
  • Peel the onions, trim the zucchini and trim/ finely chop the kale. Using the large holes of a box grater or the grater disk on a food processor, grate the zucchini and onions. *Option: if you want your latkes to be extra crispy, transfer the grated kale, zucchini and onion to a large kitchen towel, gather the ends of towel, twist over your sink, and squeeze firmly to wring out as much liquid as possible before transferring to a bowl
  • In a large bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, pepper and eggs until smooth. Add the veggie-onion mixture as well as the diced herbs, and mix until well coated (the latke mixture should be wet and thick, but not soupy. You can also mix in another egg if you’re finding it too dry)
  • In a large frying pan, heat 2 to 4 Tbsp of oil over medium-high heat. Drop a small amount of latke mixture into the pan—if the oil sizzles around the edges, it’s ready (do not let the oil smoke, though)
  • Working in batches and adding more oil to the skillet as needed to maintain about 1/8inches of oil, drop large spoonfuls of the mixture into the pan, pressing gently with the back of a spoon or spatula to flatten slightly
  • Cook the latkes until golden brown and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side (if you’re noticing small pieces of veggie floating in the oil start to burn, carefully strain or wipe out)
  • Transfer the latkes to the paper towel to drain, and then transfer them to the prepared wire rack. Place the wired-rack-topped baking sheet
  • with latkes in the oven to keep warm and crisp while cooking the remaining latkes

Latkes are served here with chopped chives and a creamy avocado chive whip (recipe below).

Creamy Avocado Chive Whip

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 Tbsp fresh chives, diced
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • Water as needed (about 2 Tbsp)

Directions

  • In a small blender, combine all the ingredients, including 1 Tbsp of water, and blend until smooth
  • (Continue to add water as needed until light and creamy (like the texture of sour cream or yogurt)

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

Boulevard MagazineFood

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Karilyn, right, with her older sister, Sabrina. Both siblings are members of the YANA family, after being helped by the community organization on separate occasions. Photo supplied
Siblings both members of the YANA family

Comox Valley non-profit helped Geiger family on separate occasions

A second-floor balcony continues to smoulder after a fire extinguisher was used to get a small balcony fire under control at the Washington Inn Apartments. Brian Hayward, who lives on the third floor, was alerted to the fire by the smell of smoke wafting into his apartment. Photo by Brian Hayward.
Courtenay firefighters respond to balcony fire at Washington Inn Apartments

Firefighters were called out to the Washington Inn Apartments Sunday, April 17,… Continue reading

RCMP forensics investigators scour the site north of Highland School in Comox, where multiple people were stabbed during a party Saturday night, April 16. Photo by Terry Farrell
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Comox bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault near Highland Secondary

Cumberland is surrounded by trees — and logging. Its council is supporting a call to stop old-growth logging in vulnerable areas of the province such as Fairy Creek. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Cumberland backs request to save B.C.’s old-growth forests

The Comox Youth Climate Council is asking local governments to take stand

Danita Bilozaze and her daughter Dani in Comox. Photo by Karen McKinnon
Valley woman makes historic name change for truth and reconciliation

First in Canada to be issued new passport under the TRC Calls to Action

Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and vacation bookings are being increased in B.C. (B.C. government)
Out-of-region B.C. vacation bookings, RV ferry reservations to be refused

B.C. extends COVID-19 indoor dining, group fitness ban until May 25

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
BREAKING: Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
Island Health seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

VIHA says Ladysmith-area Chakalaka Bar and Grill also violating water and sewer regulations

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. to target people ages 40+ in ‘high risk communities’ with AstraZeneca vaccine

A total of 13 neighbourhoods and communities will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine

Carver Ken Sheen had almost finished work on a large cowboy carving commissioned by the City of Williams Lake to replace the original overlooking the Stampede Grounds when fire broke out Friday, April 18 at his property between Williams Lake and Quesnel. (Pine River Carving Facebook photos)
Cow boss statue destined for Williams Lake Stampede Grounds goes up in flames

Carver Ken Sheen lost the statue, all his tools and his shop in the blaze

Most Read