Tonight we light the candles and celebrate the first night of Chanukah. Chanukah is an eight-day Jewish celebration of a miracle when oil that was only supposed to provide light in the temple for one day lasted for eight days. So fried foods are consumed during Chanukah, in honor of that oil, and latkes are one of the most popular of those fried foods.
Latke is Yiddish for pancake. Potato latkes, or potato pancakes, are shredded potato, mixed with a binder such as egg and/or flour, which is fried in a little pancake shape. I like to add a bit of zucchini to sneak in some green vegetables. The taste is about the same but it adds some nice color and is a great use for excess end-of-season zucchini.
Hands-down, the best part of the latke is the crispy bits. It’s been scientifically proven. So don’t wuss out and bake your latkes. Plus the oil is symbolic of the miracle, so you can’t just toss it aside (or keep it in the pantry).
Besides frying, the key to well-crisped latkes is to remove as much liquid as possible from the grated vegetables as well as not adding any fillers such as flour or matzoh meal. I find the easiest way to remove liquid is to place the grated veg in a tea towel and squeeze the liquid out over a bowl. Gotta really use your muscles for this.
Latkes are best served hot, right from the frying pan, sprinkled with a bit of salt and topped with sour cream and/or applesauce. If you and your family can exercise some restraint and not eat them as they come off the stove, place them in a baking tray and keep them warm in the oven until you are ready to eat.
Potato and Zucchini Latkes (makes about 36 latkes)
2 lbs (900 grams) potatoes, about 4 medium-large
1 lb (450 grams) zucchini, about 2 medium-large
1 medium onion
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
Give potatoes a good scrub. Rinse the zucchini well. Grate potatoes, zucchini and onion on a box grater or with a food processor. Wrap grated vegetables tightly in a tea towel. Twist and squeeze tightly, removing as much liquid as possible. (Alternatively you can place grated vegetables in a mesh strainer and remove excess liquid by pressing.)
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until combined. Add the grated vegetables, salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Brush a thin film of vegetable oil onto a 12″ non-stick or cast iron skillet (I use my pancake pan). Set over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches of four latkes, take about 2 tablespoons potato mixture per latke, place on skillet and flatten with a spatula into a 3″ round. Reduce heat to medium and fry without moving the latke until the undersides are browned, 3-5 minutes. Flip latkes over and brown the other side, another 3-5 minutes. If the latke falls apart a bit while flipping, gently nudge it back to shape. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel (kitchen roll in the UK), sprinkle with a bit of salt and serve immediately. If you want to wait to serve until the entire batch is cooked, after some of the oil has been soaked into the paper towels, transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in a 250º F (120º C) oven.