A lot of people are making a big deal about the fact that Hanukkah fell this year on Thanksgiving. “It’s the first time in thousands of years that this has happened!” someone said to me and I said back, “But America hasn’t existed for thousands of years?” There was an uncomfortable silence. The point is that many people, while eating turkey, were also eating latkes last week. And since we’re still in the middle of Hanukkah, it’s not too late to have a latke party. All you need are some potatoes (sweet or regular), some onion-like things (I’ll explain momentarily) and miraculous vegetable oil that’s capable of burning for eight nights straight.
“What’s the difference between latkes and hash browns?” asked Craig one morning when I served him the sweet potato latkes I’m about to walk you through.
“Hash browns are like just fried potatoes,” I explained, making it up as I went along. “Latkes have eggs in them and are softer in the middle?” (I think that makes sense.)
These sweet potato latkes come to us from Epicurious. Here’s how easy they are (you don’t even need to click that recipe). Peel and grate 3 medium-sized sweet potatoes (or yams*) into a bowl. (Yams are what most Americans think of as sweet potatoes; a real sweet potato is white on the inside and that’s not what you want here, though they’d work too.)
The recipe tells you to add three sliced scallions, and I did that here, but I also added chopped mint and cilantro because I had that in my fridge and figured, “Why not?” (Turns out, they work really well in here but don’t, like, go out and buy them just for this. If you have them, great.)
Stir those up and make a little well for two eggs:
Season the eggs with salt and pepper and beat together with a fork. Then incorporate the rest of the potato mixture, add 1/3 cup of flour and mix until it looks like this:
If you’re me, and I don’t think you are me (but if you are me, can you get me a new pair of sneakers? Mine are getting old) you’d taste this raw, even though that’s kind of gross. Because it’s really your last chance to season it with salt and pepper.
Now take a cast iron skillet–or any skillet, really, though a cast-iron retains the heat–and add a good layer of vegetable oil to it (about 1/2 an inch), turning up the heat. When the oil is good and hot (a good way to test is to stick the back of a wooden spoon in it; if bubbles form around it, you’re ready) use an ice cream scoop or two spoons to put a ball of the latke batter in the pan and then flatten it like a pancake with a spatula.
Fry until golden brown on that first side then flip over and fry the other side.
That’s all there is to it. Don’t those look good? Here they are out of the pan:
My advice is to eat these right away (I served them with apple butter, which is what you see in the lead photo), though Deb over at Smitten Kitchen mentions that latkes re-heat really well and she’s right. You can fry these before your guests come over and then reheat them in a hot oven (about 425) for 10 minutes until they’re crispy again.
Which is exactly what we did when I made regular potato latkes with my brother and my sister-in-law Tali. We used Deb’s recipe, though again it’s mostly about technique. Or, rather, a ratio: one potato to one onion to to 1/4 cup flour to 1 egg, plus salt and pepper to taste.
Here’s Tali grating the potatoes:
The onion gets grated right on top (a technique I learned from Alex Witchel’s book, because the grated onion keeps the potatoes from turning brown):
Note, our onion was pretty large so we used half an onion for every potato: the point is it should yield the same amount of shreds. Also note we’re doing it on a paper towel so we can squeeze out all the moisture. That’s an important step.
Once you wring out the moisture, just beat in the egg, flour, salt and pepper and, again, you don’t have to but I like to taste it raw just to know if it’s salty enough. These were plenty salty.
Then all you do is fry:
Those look tasty, right?
We made these about an hour before my parents, grandparents, aunt and uncle and Tali’s parents and aunt came over. Then we reheated them on an oven-safe platter until they got crispy and hot again in a 425 degree oven:
Tali served these with the requisite sour cream and apple sauce. Our first customer? My grandfather, who genuinely enjoyed them:
Pretty soon, everyone was eating latkes.
So don’t let this Hanukkah pass you by without making latkes for your loved ones. If they bring up the Thanksgiving/Hanukkah coincidence, be kind and go with it. It’s just something to talk about while you spend most of your energy eating delicious, freshly-fried latkes.