Latkes are Like the Pied Piper

One year I made 200 potato latkes for my brother and sister-in-law’s annual Hanukkah party. I think the smell of fried food lingered in my hair and nose for the rest of the 8-day holiday. The latkes were absolutely great. Crispy and delicious and the crowd polished them off in less than a half hour.

I don’t know whether i felt thrilled or upset. I mean, everyone loved the latkes and I was happy about that. But 200 latkes was an awful lot of work and then they were gone gone gone so quickly.

The year after that I made challah for their party (and that’s what I will do this year). But Hanukkah and latkes, well, that’s an old story. So the year I began the Hanukkah challah for Eileen and Jeff, I cooked almost 200 potato latkes with the children at the Chabad in Westport, Connecticut.

Each kid had a choice to mix some vegetable or crumbled cheese into the standard potato latke mixture and drop the batter into the pan. After I fried the pancakes to a crisp, each of them collected his or her personal latke, seemed thrilled by their handicraft and gobbled it up.

There were extras of course. Parents came, drawn in as if mesmerized by the Pied Piper, but this time they were following the perfume of latkes rather than the sound of a pipe. 

The choices of mix-ins that I gave the children included olives, corn, sun-dried tomatoes and chopped feta cheese.

But if you want to add a little something to the standard recipe, you can include a whole lot of other things too: chopped scallions, sauteed mushrooms, chopped celery, peas, diced beets, goat cheese, chopped herbs such as rosemary, grated Parmesan cheese. Latkes are like a never ending universe.

So here, once again, is my recipe for Classic Potato Latkes, with some suggestions for ingredients to put into the batter.

Potato Latkes

4 large Russet-type baking potatoes, peeled

1 large yellow onion

3 tablespoons matzo meal, bread crumbs or potato starch

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

vegetable oil for frying

Shred the potatoes and onion using the shredding disk of a food processor. Remove the vegetables to a bowl. Replace the shredding disk with the S-blade and put the vegetables back into the workbowl. Pulse until the potato shreds are much smaller and look “grated.” Using a handful or two at a time, place the mixture into a kitchen towel and squeeze as much liquid out as possible, then place the mixture in a bowl. Repeat with the remaining potato-onion mixture. Add the matzo meal and toss the ingredients. Add the eggs, salt, pepper and baking powder and mix to distribute the ingredients thoroughly. Heat about 1/4-inch vegetable oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot enough to make a matzo meal crumb sizzle, add some of the potato mixture to the pan, forming small pancakes, anywhere from 1-1/2-inch size to 3-inch size. Be sure to leave ample space between each latke so that they fry properly — if they are too close they will “steam” slightly and the latkes will be soggy. Be sure the vegetable oil remains hot — if the temperature gets too low the latkes may become soggy. Fry the latkes for 2-3 minutes per side or until crispy and browned. Drain on paper towels. Makes 24 small or 12 large pancakes

Variations: add 1/2 cup corn kernels or frozen peas, chopped olives or crumbled feta cheese, one cup shredded mozzarella or Fontina cheese, one chopped jalapeno pepper or 1/3 cup finely chopped sun dried tomatoes, 1 cup sauteed sliced mushrooms or diced cooked beets, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary.