Making latkes is a study on imperfection and patience. Also, the task will make you smell like a short-order cook (your significant other will wonder why you smell so tasty…like hot french fries). But don’t let that scare you away because latkes are also a lesson in bringing people joy through food, which is, after all, the very best reason to cook. These little beauties also fulfill the mandate for all celebration food: they are indulgent and delicious.
The holidays are notorious for bringing a year’s worth of stress and a lifetime’s worth of “challenging” family dynamics together around the dinner table. All this, combined with the forced frivolity and an abundance of holiday cocktails is often a recipe for disaster. I know that when I get stressed, I find myself getting hyper-critical, first with myself and then with others. I’m not being productive enough, everything is overwhelming, and it feels like there’s no end in sight. All of the Four Agreements fade away (especially the “don’t take anything personally” one) and I’m suddenly snapping at my co-workers, my wife and myself. My holidays can easily devolve into this scenario, which is where little mounds of fried potatoes come in. In my case, I turned to sweet potato latkes. But even run-of-the-mill russet potato latkes have magic.
Here are three reasons to pull out your grater, buy some extra vegetable oil and get settle in for some you-time at the stove:
- Making latkes require you to STOP and focus on only one thing. If you try walking away to answer the phone or return an email, they will likely burn. And so, like it or not, you will cease to multi-task for perhaps the first time all day (Who are we kidding?! More like all week.), call upon reserves of patience you didn’t realize you had, and you will simply cook latkes. Just you, standing at the stove, with nothing but a pan-full of humble potato pancakes staring back at you. Trying to find time in your day to start meditating? Look no further.
- Despite giving the latkes 100% of your attention, they will not all turn out looking the same (a quick glance at my less-than-perfect pictures on this post will attest to this simple fact). They will be imperfect in every way – some a bit more pale than the others, some a bit thicker than the others, and a few will simple be too dark (read: burned) to serve. But you will eat them anyway, Because you went through the trouble to make them and because they are delicious. And by the time you are done making your 5th batch of latkes, you will have learned a valuable lesson in the power of imperfection. I always say, “Perfect is the enemy of good,” but I never understood this saying better than when I was standing over the stove gobbling up a less-than-perfect latke hot, salty and delicious.
- Everyone loves a fried potato. I’ve been feeding people for two decades and it’s a universal truth I can guarantee. If you make a plate of latkes to bring to your next holiday party, people will swarm around you, they will shower you with compliments and they will be talking about you (and your latke) the next day. It’s that simple. Works every time. In a season when the idea of “giving” often means searching for that perfect gift and fighting crowds to get it, here’s a gift that will deliver every time. If the road to one’s heart is through one’s stomach, it is certain paved with little golden latkes.
Whether it’s over the next week for Hannukah or over the next month for any of your holiday occasions, I hope you’ll set aside some time for this culinary project. It won’t disappoint.
Of course there are certain tips and tricks that separate an average latke from a stellar latke. The most important is squeezing your grated vegetables dry before finishing the mixture. I’ve put details in the recipe notes. Happy cooking!
- 3 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled & shredded
- 2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled & shredded
- 1 medium onion, peeled & shredded
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup flour
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- vegetable oil, for frying
- crème fraiche, sour cream or Greek yogurt, for serving
- dill, optional, for serving
- Line a baking sheet with paper towels and set aside.
- Combined the shredded potatoes & onions.
- NOTE: I use the shredding blade on my Cuisinart to shred all the potatoes & onions – makes quick work of this job.
- Place about half of the shredded mixture in a clean dish towel and squeeze over the sink – squeeze as much liquid out as you can. Repeat with the remainder of the shredded mix.
- Combine the now-dryer-shredded-mix with the eggs and flour and salt and pepper. Mix very well.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add about ½-inch of oil.
- Test to see if the oil is hot by dropping a tiny bit of the mixture into the center of the pan – if it sizzles right away, you’re ready to go.
- Dollop ¼-cup mounds of the mixture gently into the oil (I like to use a scoop so I can pack the mix tightly before dropping it into the pan – helps keep the latke together while cooking.).
- Cook until golden on the first side, gently turn and cook until golden on the second side. Remove and place on the paper-towel-lined baking sheet to drain slightly before serving.
- Serve with crème fraiche, dill and fresh cracked pepper.
- Place on a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet. Bake at 375 until heated through. This method will keep them crispy and avoid the bottoms from getting soggy.