The story of Hanukkah, also known as the festival of light, is one of miraculous perseverance and rich tradition. According to legend, Jewish rebels were able to recover their holy temple in Jerusalem after being forced to worship pagan deities for many years against their will. When it came time to light the menorah they realized they only had enough oil to keep it burning for a single night. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days and the Jewish people were able to make more oil to keep the flame lit forever afterward.
The Importance of Oil in Traditional Hanukkah Foods
Many of the delicious foods which are traditionally served during Hanukkah are a directly inspired by the symbolism behind the miraculous oil that burned for eight days. Specifically, deep-fried doughnuts (called sufganiot) and fried potato pancakes (latkes) play a big part during Hanukkah celebrations. Latkes are a tasty introduction to Jewish home cooking and can be made with just a few easy-to-find ingredients.
Get going in the kitchen with crispy potato latkes.
Latkes are super-crispy potato pancakes that are shallow-fried in oil, which is why they’re eaten so plentifully during Hanukkah. The trick to making these latkes is to remove as much moisture as possible from the grated potatoes before adding any binders. This will ensure a perfectly browned exterior and a creamy center. Olive oil and schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) are used in traditional recipes but may not be practical for the average home cook due to their relatively low smoke points. Grapeseed, avocado, and peanut oil all work well, as does melted ghee (or a combination of these fats).
Cooking time: 1 hour
Serves: 4 people (2 latkes each)
- 2 lb baking potatoes (such as Yukon Gold), peeled
- 1 medium-sized onion (white or yellow)
- ¼ cup + 1 Tbsp. sifted white flour OR matzo meal OR fine bread crumbs
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten together
- 1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
- ½ tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 cup of grapeseed OR avocado OR peanut oil OR ghee
- Sour cream or room-temperature applesauce (for topping)
- Box grater OR food processor with shredder attachment
- Large bowl
- Colander or fine mesh sieve
- Cheesecloth or clean tea towel
- Large skillet (cast iron works best)
- Baking sheet
- Cooking thermometer
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Using either a box grater or a food processor with a shredder attachment, grate the potatoes and onion into a large bowl.
- Transfer the grated potatoes and onion to a colander or fine mesh sieve and press down with your hands or a sturdy wooden spoon. Drain for 20 minutes.
- Remove the potatoes and onion from the colander and place in the middle of a square of cheesecloth or a clean tea towel. Bring the fabric together and squeeze any excess moisture out, applying as much pressure as possible.
- Return the potato and onion mixture to the bowl and gently stir in the flour (or substitute), eggs, kosher salt, and pepper. Be careful not to overmix.
- Place a baking sheet in the preheated oven.
- Heat the oil to 360°F in a large skillet over medium-high heat using a cooking thermometer to check for readiness.
- Working in batches, fry the latkes in ¼ cup amounts until browned and crispy on both sides. This should take about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to the baking sheet in the oven as they finish.
- Top latkes with sour cream or room-temperature applesauce before eating.