My little congregation had its annual Hannukah party on Saturday night. It was fun. We vainly attempted to sing the songs of our childhood…most of which came out like “Hanukah l’Hanukah na na na nan na” or “spin the whirling dreidel na na na na”. We lit candles on the menorahs we brought, narrowly avoiding a conflagration. I won a gaudy plastic electric menorah.
The only problem was that the latkes were burnt. I don’t mean overdone, but most of them incinerated to hard flat cinders. It seems that the men of the congregation were making the latkes – a reasonably simple task. As you make more latkes, you typically put the cooked ones into the oven to stay warm. Somehow, the latke-makers were told to turn the oven up to 400 degrees – ergo latke cinders.
When I was growing up, my grandma had a latke party for all the grandchildren every year. The menu was latkes and more latkes with sour cream and apple sauce on the side. There may have been cookies or something for dessert…I don’t remember because I was always totally, blissfully full of wonderful, oily latkes.
Latkes are traditional for Hannukah because they are cooked in oil, which is symbolic of the miracle of one day’s oil for the eternal light in the temple lasting for 8 days (the number of days of the Hannukah holiday). And because they are cooked in oil, they are not exactly a low fat food. But my latkes are only about 3 grams of fat per latke. The trick is having the oil hot enough so that the latkes don’t absorb too much oil, draining the latkes well on paper towels, and most important, not eating too many.
By the way, many recipes for latkes add various ingredients, such as chives or even other vegetables. Don’t do it!! My Grandma would be horrified. Those imposters are not latkes, they are some other sort of side dish. A good latke is potatoes and onions held together by egg and matzoh meal – nothing else. And some people use pre-grated potatoes. I guess Grandma might ok that, after all, she told me blintzes came from the freezer case. I still grate my own potatoes and onions, albeit with the food processor and not the knuckle-scraping box grater…but if you need to save time, I guess pre-grated are ok.
Grandma’s Potato Latkes
2½ pounds baking potatoes, peeled
1 medium onion
½ cup matzoh meal
¾ cup egg substitute
1 teaspoon salt
a grind of black pepper (about 1/8 teaspoon)
Preheat oven to 200 (you could also use a warming drawer if your stove has one). Line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels. Using the large holes of a box grater or grating disk of a food processor, grate potatoes and onion together. Using your hands, gather up handfuls of the potato mixture and squeeze as much of the liquid from it as possible. (I usually do this right from the food processor and put the squeezed potatoes into a large bowl.) Add matzo meal, egg substitute, salt, and pepper. Mix thoroughly – I do this with my hands since I haven’t been able to find a spoon that can mix it well enough.
Place a deep skillet over medium-high heat and add oil until it comes ½ inch up the side. Heat until a little piece of the potato sizzles when you put it into the oil. Cook the latkes in batches by carefully adding about 1/3 cup potato mixture for each pancake to the oil, pressing down on the mixture to spread it into a 3-4 inch latke. Don’t crowd them, and don’t make them too thick or they will burn on the outside before they cook on the inside.
Fry, turning once, until they are deep golden brown on each side – about 6 minutes total. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. Using a slotted spatula, transfer the latkes to the lined baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you make the remaining latkes. You may have to add a little more oil to the pan for later batches – let it heat up before you add more potato mixture. Serve with applesauce and non-fat sour cream. Makes about 15 latkes with about 3 grams of fat/latke.
OK, I confess – this picture lies. I did not eat only 2 latkes. I am sitting here blissfully full of latkes, with oily hands, lips and cheeks, feeling like I am 8 years old again.