Hanukah, the the Jewish festival of lights, is the time of year that we throw abandon to cooking oil (sorry my dietitian!), and indulge in oily foods such as doughnuts and potato latkes.
Eating oily food is symbolic of the miracle of the menorah (a nine branched candelabra) burning for eight full days after the desecration of the Temple of Jerusalem, when there was only enough oil to illuminate the Temple lamp for one day.
It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greek army, and the subsequent miracle of rededicating the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and restoring its menorah, or lamp.
While I do love a good doughnut (a reason I try not to walk within 100m of a doughnut store), my other favourite traditional Chanukah dish is the latke, which can best be described as a potato pancake, and which you can often order at Jewish-style delis (New York as an example is full of them).
Latkes also conjure up beautiful memories of my gran making them for us – even all-year round because we loved them so much.
They’re easy to make – the only “hard” work comes from getting all the liquid out of the potato and onion mixture. I’ve used various recipes over the years, but I’ve started using this one, which I’ve adapted, from Once Upon A Chef.
- 3-4 russet or baking potatoes (the large type)
- 1 onion, peeled
- 2 large eggs
- 2 scant teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons Royal Baking Powder
- 1/3 cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup vegetable oil (for something healthier, you can use Canola oil)
- Equipment: 2 heavy non-stick rimmed baking sheets (it’s essential that these are non-stick)
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celcius.
Peel the potatoes, and coarsely grate them with the onion together.
Place the potato mixture in a fine sieve and press down firmly with paper towel to remove excess moisture. Stir and repeat a few times with fresh paper towels until liquid is mostly drained. You can also use a dish cloth to dry the potato.
Transfer the potato mixture to a bowl and mix in eggs, salt, baking powder and flour.
Fill two heavy non-stick rimmed baking sheets with 1/2 cup oil each. Place pans in oven for 10 minutes to heat the oil. Carefully remove pans from oven. Drop batter by the 1/4-cupful onto baking sheets, spacing about 1-1/2 inches apart. Using the bottom of the measuring cup or a spoon, press down on the latkes to flatten just slightly.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until bottoms are crisp and golden. Carefully remove pans from oven and flip them. Place the pans back in oven and cook until the latkes are crisp and golden brown all over, about 10 minutes more.
Remove the pans from oven and transfer to large platter lined with paper towels.
Serve immediately with sour cream or apple sauce, or with some sugar and cinnamon.
This is a slightly healthier version than the typical method of deep frying them, but it’s way less time consuming. If you want less oil, you can just brush the latkes on both sides with the oil before baking.
These are best served warm and fresh.