In my mother’s honor, I’d like to review one of the culinary traditions at Hanukkah: potato latkes, also known as potato pancakes. I include links to some variations of latkes as well.
This is an opportunity to involve your children in the kitchen and to teach about traditional fats and oils since latkes are fried in oil. Following is the list of traditional fats and oils that we recommend:
Butter – preferably raw or cultured from pasture raised cows
Tallow and suet from beef and lamb on pasture
Lard from pigs on pasture
Chicken, goose and duck fat from animals that have been pasture raised
Coconut, palm and palm kernel oils
Cold pressed olive oil
Cold pressed sesame and peanut oils
Cold pressed flax oil, in small amounts
Marine oils such as cod liver oil
Note that there are no vegetable oils such as canola, corn or soy on this list. Here is more detailed information about all fats and oils from the Weston A. Price Foundation – including sunflower and other such oils.
Why are latkes eaten at Hanukkah?
Though commonly associated with the Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine of Eastern Europe, they are actually not necessarily Jewish in origin. Areas like northeast Poland, for instance, know many varieties. A favorite Polish dish is placki węgierskie (placki po węgiersku) — potato pancakes stuffed with a thick, spicy Hungarian goulash. Latkes are traditionally eaten during the Jewish Hanukkah festival although they play no fundamental part in the Hanukkah ritual.
The custom probably evolved because of the preference for eating fried foods during the festival that celebrates a miracle involving oil in the Temple of ancient Israel. Variants include cheese, apple, zucchini, spinach, leek, and rice latkes. Here is a quick, very simple summary of Hanukkah. You may also be interested in my post on candles.
The word “latke” is of Yiddish origin, and may have come from either Germany or Russia. As Jews immigrated to the United States, so did the tradition of preparing latkes. Many families now prepare these pancakes from recipes over 100 years old. Therefore, even though they are not prepared as in ancient times, potato latkes have a rich history as well. Learn more.
Classic Potato Latkes Recipe
I recommend frying in butter, coconut oil, and duck fat. You could use lard, though Jews traditionally don’t consume pork. I don’t recommend frying in olive oil. I use olive oil at room temperature only myself.
2 pounds of organic potatoes [Russet, Idaho … any kind you like]
½ of a large organic white or yellow onion
8 pasture raised eggs, soy-free if possible
6 tablespoons of organic sprouted flour or gluten free rice flour [grain free recipes are listed below]
4 teaspoons of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 ½ cups of organic, refined, expeller pressed coconut oil. You are welcome to use unrefined coconut oil if you enjoy the taste of coconut.
1. Shred potatoes using a food processor, or hand grater if necessary. I use unpeeled potatoes, however, you are welcome to peel them, of course.
2. Use a thin dish cloth or flour sack to wring the potatoes over a bowl or the sink in order to extract as much moisture as you can.
3. Add the shredded potatoes to a large mixing bowl. Mix in the onion, eggs, sprouted flour and salt.
4. Add a few turns of freshly ground black pepper and combine throroughly.
5. Heat the coconut oil in a large cast iron or enamelware skillet. [Read our post about cookware.] Heat the oil until you can spoon some of the latkes batter into the oil and it immediately starts to fry.
6. When the oil is hot enough, carefully place tablespoons of the potato mixture into the skillet. Press down on them with a spatula to form 1/4 to 1/2 inch patties. They can be sized according to your prefernece but, it is best to make them relatively thin so they cook through.
7. Fry each side until the latke is cooked through and golden brown.
8. Drain on dish towels, as they are more sustainable than paper towels.
9. Serve with creme fraiche and/or Apple Sauce.
Here are alternative latke recipes:
From Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morell and Mary Enig:
½ case organic tart apples [about 20 pounds]
Juice of 2 lemons
1 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
Cut apples into quarters and fill a very large enamel or stainless steel pot. Squeeze lemon juice over top and add about 2 cups of filtered water to the pot. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for several hours until apples are very tender. Push down with a potato masher occasionally and check that the apples are not burning. Allow to cool and pass in batches through a food mill. Stir in syrup and spices. Store in refrigerator or freezer.
Note that I don’t use a food mill, and prefer a chunky apple sauce. I do blend the apple sauce a bit however.
I like this unsweetened version of apple sauce by Nourish The Roots.
6 pounds of organic apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 8 slices
1 cup organic apple juice or apple cider or filtered water
Juice of 1 lemon
Natural sweetener of your choice, such as maple syrup, to taste … or not
1 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
Optional ingredients: nutmeg, allspice, butter