My older son is a potato addict. I can’t blame him really, I was the same as a kid. Potatoes are delicious: baked, whipped, pureed, mashed, fried, or shredded. Seriously, any way works for him. I don’t eat them as much anymore, so when I do, they need to be worth it. Potato latkes are worth it. To me, they are the ultimate Jewish comfort food and in my house, we make them all year long.
Latkes, a fried shredded potato pancake, are a traditional Jewish dish served during the Hanukkah holiday, something my husband grew up eating each December. I grew up eating potato pancakes made from mashed potatoes, seared in a pan with melted butter to obtain a crispy outer area, I loved them deeply. I have had many latkes and potato pancakes in my life. My recipe here is almost a blend of what my husband and I grew up eating. My older son has called these “perfection,” a compliment from a tween that I will gladly accept.
So, why do Jews eat latkes (and donuts) fried in oil during Hanukkah? Latkes and donuts are fried in oil to pay homage (or celebrate) the miracle of the Festival of Lights. Depending on what you read, there were several miracles relating to the rededication of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE. One typically taught to children is that a single night’s supply of lamp oil provided light for eight nights.
Because it typically falls near Christmas, Hanukkah has received more attention than many of the other Jewish holidays. But Hanukkah is considered a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, and it was added to the Jewish calendar relatively late.
In addition to oil, latkes are all about potatoes. The mix of partly shredded and partially blended potatoes in my recipe helps the latkes stay together and fry up perfectly golden brown but moist in the middle. This balance allows you to make this recipe in advance and reheat it in the oven without it drying out, which is ideal for large gatherings like one sees at Hanukkah celebrations. This recipe makes twelve latkes, and I say serves 4 people—that, however, does not work in my family. I typically double or triple the batch because no one wants to say “no” to having one more latke.
Latkes are incredibly versatile and not just for Hanukkah. These tasty savory cakes work well as a side dish to almost anything you can think of. Great for entertaining, cooked in advance and easily reheated in the oven to maintain their wonderful crispiness. Serve with traditional apple sauce and sour cream or straight up, these latkes are delicious.