The holiday season is here, bringing good tidings, visitors and delicious delicacies. Just as Christmas is celebrated with gingerbread and fruit cakes, the festivities of Hanukkah include eating potato latkes, also known as delicious potato pancakes.
Although many Americans associate potato pancakes with Hanukkah, they have more broad origins. They originated in the eastern European countries of Germany Austria, Russia and Poland as a peasant food. Potatoes were cheap, plentiful and easy to store, making them a staple and necessitating inventive potato recipes. Still, it was the European Jews who gave potato pancakes their now-famous Yiddish name–latkes–and repurposed them as a holiday food.
Back in 168 BC, a Syrian-Greek king named Antiochus overtook Israel as he set about to destroy the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish people’s holiest site. The Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons, the Maccabees, fought to regain control of Jerusalem for the Jewish people. When they retook the Temple, they needed to rededicate it by lighting the menorah, but they could only find one day’s worth of olive oil. Miraculously, that one day’s supply of oil lasted a full eight days, giving them enough time to prepare more oil. Jews remember the events today through the Hanukkah celebrations. Along with lighting the menorah, it is customary to celebrate by eating latkes, potato cakes fried in oil.
The Perfect Potato Pancake
The basic Latke recipe includes simple ingredients: potatoes, onions, eggs, matzo meal or all-purpose flour, salt and oil. However, many chefs make the basic recipe their own by using sweet potatoes or adding additional ingredients, such as vegetables or cheese. Toppings can vary, too. Germans eat their pancakes with applesauce, while the Eastern Europeans of Russia top them with sour cream and caviar.
Related: The Best Fruitcake Recipe Ever
When it comes to latkes, everyone thinks their family recipe is the best–but Robert Soriano’s potato pancakes could certainly hold their own against any latkes in the country. Soriano, the chef de cuisine at recipe Recipes International and Executive Chef at Bernard’s Market in Glen Head, N.Y., was born in Tunia, Tunisia and came to the United States with his parents in 1956, at age two. Soriano grew up with French and African cuisine along and a fondness for history and worked his way through college in the food industry while studying to be a history teacher. He ended up a chef, rather than a teacher, but he still uses history as a basis for his recipes. He began by working in the bagel business, concentrating on Jewish specialties. Soriano’s parents were living in France when his father passed away in 2002. Soriano went to France to help his mother with the cafe that his parents owned. What was meant to be only a few months turned into nine years, but Soriano eventually returned to the United States and his Jewish specialties.
The secret to Soriano’s latkes is replacing flour with corn starch, giving the latkes the added benefit of being gluten free.
- 5 medium potatoes peeled
- 1 large white onion
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup corn starch
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt to taste
Peel and grate potatoes and onion with a large-hole grater.
After grating, place the potatoes in a strainer and squeeze the liquid out as much as possible (Soriano’s tip: Wrap ingredients in a cheese cloth and squeeze liquid out as if ringing a wash cloth).
Place the potato and onion mixture in a large bowl.
Add the eggs, salt and corn starch.
Totally combine and mix all ingredients together.
Heat 1/4 inch of Canola oil in a large skillet.
Use your hands to form the mixture into the desired size and carefully lay them into the hot oil without overcrowding the pan.
Once the edges start to brown, turn the pancakes over with a spatula to cook both sides until golden brown.
Take the pancakes out of the skillet and lay them on a sheet pan screen to let the residual oil drip out (Soriano’s tip: Paper towels do not soak up extra grease, instead the food ends up sitting in its own grease).
Serve the potato latkes as hot as possible.
Soriano’s latkes can be individually frozen and reheated in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 2 to 3 minutes.
For more holiday food ideas, including gifts check out YourHolidayHints.com
Carol Ruth Weber began her career as a Theatrical Costume and Set Designer and segued into the world of Interior Design. As an interior designer she has twenty-eight years of experience in all phases of the business. You can read more of her work on Examiner.com and she can also be contacted at WeberLifeDesign.