I love Chanukah. Sure, it's more of a festival than a holiday, but what other festival do you know of that celebrates (overtly) with eight days of oil? Fatty, greasy, delicious oil. Not only can I use as much oil in my cooking as I could ever possibly want, but it's symbolic! One could argue that I'm actually being a good Jew by cooking with lots and lots and lots of oil. Oh man, I love Chanukah.
We'll start off with a foolproof recipe you can't go wrong with. It's a family recipe— one my father has served hundreds of people at a time with. And then we'll talk about eight different ideas for creating a truly unique latke experience. They're such great vessels and totally fun to dress up. There are so many more options than just sour cream and apple sauce!
When it comes to making latkes, I like it easy. Who wants to spend all afternoon peeling and grating potatoes in order to make a large batch for friends? Forget it. Firstly, don't you dare peel that potato. It's just not worth your time. Give it a little scrub, but that's it. Leaving the skin on will give you a crisper latke. Not to mention, it'll save you loads of time and give you some good nutrients to boot. I'll bet you won't even notice the peel once they're done.
I'm all about making beautiful, lacy latkes without having to spend the time hunched over a big box grater threatening my fingers at the end of every potato. This is when I bring out my food processor and grater attachment. You can absolutely feel free to coarsely grate it by hand (or better yet, recruit people to do it for you!), but if you have a food processor, all you have to do is slice that potato in half lengthwise and zip it in there. You won't believe how quickly you'll be done.
I usually plan for about four latkes per person. This recipe will make roughly 20 latkes, though it doubles and triples easily if you're cooking for a crowd. And lucky for you, they'll freeze if you have extra. You'll need five potatoes, one onion, three eggs, three tablespoons sour cream, one teaspoon salt, one half teaspoon pepper, a quarter cup flour and oil for frying. If you're buying bags of potatoes, five pounds is roughly equivalent to 13 potatoes.
Shred both the potatoes and onion. If you want a more disguised onion, you can feel free to mince it rather than grating. Mix all the ingredients together. (That was easy, wasn't it?) Preheat your skillet over medium high heat. I strongly recommend using a cast iron pan. You can use whatever you'd like, of course, but I think they come out best with cast iron. Make sure the oil is hot before you start or the latkes will stick. Cook until nicely browned and crispy on both sides.
Eight Ideas to Spice up your Latkes:
The Decadent: Small- to medium-sized latkes topped with a dollop of creme fraiche and caviar will dress up your gathering and cause mouths to water.
Everything is Better with Beef: Start with a large latke and lay on a few slices of sliced sirloin (or brisket) topped with an au jus sauce. In honor of Chanukah, I'll even let you make the joke that you're serving it with au Jew sauce.
Pile of Vegetables: Feel free to use whatever you have around, but I'm a big fan of a layer of roasted zucchini, topped with sauteed mushrooms and wilted spinach to finish it off. Beautiful, delicious and healthy. (Except for the oil, of course.)
Fig-tastic: Top mini latkes with just a tad of gorgonzola cheese and half a fresh fig. It will delight your senses and also makes for a great appetizer.
Not for the Kosher: Sorry, I can't help myself, but I'm craving a latke topped with avocado slices and shrimp seared in butter. The lightness of the shrimp and avocado plays well with the latke.
Pear & Brie: A spin on the traditional applesauce, latkes with baked pear and a slice of brie are absolutely delectable.
Roasted Pepper: Roast or grill bell peppers, steam them in a brown paper bag and peel off the skin. Put a slice of three different colors of peppers atop each latke for an attractive presentation and a tasty mix of flavors.
Croque Madame: Also not for the kosher Jewish crowd—hey, you don't have to be Jewish to make latkes!—this is a take on the traditional French sandwich. Start with a latke, top with sliced ham and guyere, layer on another latke and top with a fried or poached egg. Mmm... heavenly!
Now, that gives you exactly eight different ways to serve latkes, one for every day of Chanukah. Just be sure to get your cholesterol checked after the holiday, okay?
Ben Salmon is a former literary agent and the owner of Kitchen a la Mode: Accessories for Cooking & Entertaining in the heart of downtown South Orange. His local food column at Patch explores the food and drink scene in the area.