Friday, December 3, 2010

Latkes (potato pancakes)

During Hannuka we are supposed to eat food that has been fried, supposedly to commemorate the miracle of the oil - but really, it's just a good excuse to eat something fried without feeling too guilty about it, right?

Latkes (or Levivot, in Hebrew) are a traditional Hannuka dish and everyone has their own version. This is mine (well, mostly my mother's).

A few tips: 

A. You will notice that this recipe separates the yolks from the whites and beats the whites into a stiff foam. You don't absolutely have to do this (you can just add the eggs as is), but the foam serves two purposes: it keeps the potatoes from browning while they wait to be fried, and - more importantly - it makes the latkes incredibly fluffy and delicious.

B. You will notice this recipe uses no flour or breadcrumbs, as some latke recipes do. However, it is therefore very important to squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the potatoes before using them. You can do this using a cheesecloth or a strainer, but I find the easiest way is actually to spin them in a salad spinner!

C. Like most fried foods, latkes are at their best when they are very very fresh, still hot from the oil. Realistically, however, no one really wants to stand around frying latkes during a Hannuka party, and even making them the same day as the party will leave the house smelling like oil. The solution is to freeze the latkes while they are still warm (if you have a large freezer, just freeze them flat on a baking tin. If not, an airtight container will do). When you want to serve them, place the frozen latkes flat on a baking tin, and place them in a warm oven for a few minutes, until they are heated through.

D. I have done my best to approximate quantities etc., but with things like potatoes it is impossible to know exactly how much of everything you will need.You may need to play a bit with the quantities to get it perfect.

Now, on to the recipe!


Ingredients (for about 20-25 latkes): 

- 3 large potatoes, or  4-5 medium ones, peeled
- 1 large onion 
- 3-4 eggs, separated into yolks and whites (if you want extra-fluffy latkes, you can add a few more whites). 
- Salt and pepper 
- Canola oil or other oil for deep frying (not olive oil!) 


1. Beat the egg whites until they form a stiff foam. 

2. Grate or shred the potatoes and the onion (a food processor will make this much easier, of course, but manual is also good). 

3. Using your hands, a cheese cloth, a strainer or a salad spinner, squeeze as much moisture as possible out of the shredded potatoes and onions. Place them in a large bowl.

4. Add the yolks and the beaten egg whites to the potatoes and gently fold until the yolks, potatoes and onions are really incorporated into the foam. The mixture should look very fluffy but not completely liquid. If it is too liquid, add some more potatoes or some flour or breadcrumbs to the mix. If it seems too dry, add some more egg.  Season the mixture with salt and pepper. 

5. In a large frying pan heat about an inch (2.5 cm) of oil. When the oil is hot (you can test this by putting a wooden spoon in the oil. If it starts to "fry", the oil is hot enough), drop a few spoonfuls of the mixture into the oil, to create patties. Fry them until they are a deep golden brown on both sides (you will need to flip them). 
Pay attention to the oil! If the latkes seem to fry too fast, lower the heat. If they fry too slowly, raise it a bit.

6. When the latkes are golden brown, place them on some paper towel to drain. I recommend tasting one from the first batch, to make sure the seasoning is correct. If it isn't, you can always add some more salt and pepper. And since after you eat one you will probably want another, I also recommend making a few extras. 
7. Continue frying until all the latkes are made (if you start to run out of oil in the middle, just heat up some more).  They can be served as either a savory or a sweet dish, with sour cream, sugar and cinnamon, or applesauce. I usually offer a choice of all three, so everyone can eat them the way they like.

Happy Hannuka!

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