Hanukkah begins at sunset Tuesday. In Jewish homes around the world the first candle will be lighted on the menorah—the nine-branched ceremonial candelabra. Tradition tells the story of a small amount of oil found in the desecrated Jerusalem temple following a victory for religious freedom. The precious little bit of oil found in the ruins was ceremoniously lighted to rededicate and return “light” to the holy space, and was only supposed to last for one day. Miraculously, the lamp with the oil burned brightly for eight days.
The celebration of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, has evolved to include oil as the symbolic ingredient and the latke (potato pancake) has become an icon in western Jewish Hanukkah cuisine. I mean, really, who doesn't love a hot, crispy potato latke? But like potato chips or M&Ms, you just can’t eat one.
If you are planning on feeding more guests than you can fit around your table and actually want to enjoy yourself at your own party, I highly recommend frying up about 75 percent of the latkes ahead of time and popping them in the freezer while still hot—known as flash freezing.
The question is, how many latkes should you make? A good rule of thumb is to make four to five 3-inch latkes per person. Have a fresh batch going when guests arrive, but the mainstay of your latkes will be going straight from the freezer into the oven.
To freeze latkes for a large gathering, fry them until they are nicely browned, but not too dark, and get them right into the freezer. Once they are slightly frozen, transfer them to plastic bags. When ready, re-crisp the latkes in a 400-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until sizzling again. Serve with some apple sauce and creme fraiche and watch them disappear at the speed of light.
Here's my family recipe for a batch of classic latkes. This recipe makes about 12 to 15 3-inch latkes.
3-4 medium russet potatoes, peeled and placed in cold water
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in chunks
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons of matzoh meal, bread crumbs or flour
Grapeseed or canola oil for frying (about 1/4 inch deep)
In a food processor using the metal blade, process the onions until minced. Remove and place in a large bowl and squeeze out the watery liquid. Process half the potatoes with the metal blade in about five pulses to make creamy but not mushy. Then switch to the shredding disk and process the remaining potatoes. This way you get a nice texture of both shredded and creamy potatoes.
Squeeze out some liquid from the potatoes and add to the onions. Add the beaten eggs, salt, pepper, baking powder and matzoh meal. Heat oil in a nonstick or iron skillet, about 1/4 inch deep. You'll know it's ready when a small amount of the added oil sizzles.
Drop the batter by heaping tablespoons into the oil over a medium-high heat and slightly flatten the latkes so they cook evenly. Flip them over with a spatula when they are a deep golden brown (about four minutes) and cook until nicely browned on the other side. Drain on a paper towel.
Serve or freeze immediately. Enjoy!
Susan Silverberg spends her days at the Los Angeles Times food section's test kitchen testing recipes for readers. She is completing her culinary arts degree at Los Angeles Trade Tech, serves as an editorial consultant on multiple cookbooks, has appeared on national television as a home arts expert, and is currently teaching cooking classes through the Beverly Hills Department of Parks and Recreation.