Latkes, or in Hebrew “livivot,” are a traditional food for Chanukah. The basic ingredients are simple: potatoes, onions, eggs, flour, seasoning and oil, lots of oil, for frying. However, every professional and home chef has a personal twist on this simple recipe. The trick is to fry your latkes perfectly crispy on the outside, and not over or under season them.
“Some people feel that Idaho potatoes work best because of the high starch content, but you can use any potatoes,” said The Kosher Dinner Lady, Rachel Berger, on her secret for a perfect latke. “I use regular white onions in my potato latkes, but red onion and scallions are great too!” She added, “eyeball the batter to see if it feels too watery. This can be fixed simply by adding some flour.” Berger revealed that she uses a food processor, and enjoys her latkes with sour cream and applesauce together.
Known for her non-traditional creations, Berger has also made shredded rainbow carrot and kale latkes, as well as corn latkes with mango yoghurt relish. Further, she recommended, “Use an oil that has a high smoke point. Vegetable oil works well.” The Kosher Dinner Lady advised that the oil should be between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure the best result, warning that, “most people don’t take the temperature of their oil. Make sure your latkes don’t take too long to brown, or brown too quickly. The first few may be trial and error.”
Eran Ginzberg, the kitchen manager at SAR Academy, explained that the secret to great latkes is love. Ginzberg uses a food processor, believes that the ingredients selected matter and strictly uses red potatoes and canola oil. He does not use onions. Personally, Ginzberg prefers his latkes with sour cream, white horseradish, lox and scallions. When it comes to the latke itself, Ginzberg is a purist, as he believes in the standard potato latke. However, he does offer an alternative to the traditional latke: “You can take the latke batter and mix it with shredded mozzarella and then put it in a waffle maker. “
Young Israel of New Rochelle Rebbetzin Abby Fink described, “I usually put the potatoes and onions into a food processor and go from there. I love the concept, the feel and the sound of latkes sizzling on the stove as Chanukah begins! I usually make potato, but I often add carrot latkes or broccoli. I like to do things a little bit differently each time, so it is not totally predictable. My mother, a”h, used to make delicious latkes. I don’t follow her recipe exactly but I always think of her as they are cooking. To me, this is part of the tradition and part of the spirit of Chanukah. My favorite part of Chanukah, probably like most other people, is watching the flames of the menorah glow and realizing that the Jewish nation lives on.”
Rebbetzin Yael Axelrod hand grates her latkes. “No one really taught me how to make latkes, but I have very fond memories of my grandmother frying latkes at our family Chanukah party every year,” she said. “There are no healthy alternatives to latkes. Latkes are a once-a-year treat meant to be enjoyed in their purest form. Latkes are almost synonymous with Chanukah, they remind us of the miracle that the Chashmonaim were able to find that one pure flask of oil, and that the oil lasted for much longer than it should have by nature. When the smell of the latkes frying in oil fills our homes, the miracle of Chanukah comes alive again each year.” Axelrod encourages home chefs: “Latkes may seem scary to make if you’ve never done it, but it is well worth the effort, and not as hard as it looks.”
Ginzburg added, “I like making them because it makes my kids cry. Every time you bite into latkes you feel the oil and it reminds me of the whole nes of Chanukah.
Berger revealed, “I don’t love making latkes, but the smell, the sound of frying, puts everyone in the Chanukah spirit. Even though you can be so creative with different varieties of latkes, it is still the basic potato that feels like Chanukah.”
By Judy Berger