When I grew up in the 70s in Richmond, Virginia, our community was not super diverse. If we saw a car with out-of-state license plates, we stopped and stared at it, slack-jawed, as if it were an escaped zoo animal, until it disappeared from sight.
In Kindergarten, most of my classmates were African American. There were a handful of white kids, no Asian kids and no Hispanic kids. We had one Jewish student in my school and he was my 5-year-old boyfriend. Adam Schwartz, wherever you are, I hope you remember you asked me to marry you and I’m still waiting. ANative American family lived around the corner. They were our version of celebrities because they gave the Governor a deer every Thanksgiving and appeared in the newspaper.
In those days, in December, we sang Christmas songs at school. Heck, we said grace before lunch, too. But my Kindergarten teacher, Mrs Harris, also taught us a Hanukkah song. We did hand motions to go along with the words and we were pretty cute when we sang it at assembly…
Take a potato…pat, pat, pat…
Roll it and make it flat, flat, flat!
Fry in a pan with fat, fat, fat…
Hanukkah latkes, clap, clap, clap!
Anyway, I came home and sang this for my mom, who was, of course, enchanted. She had me go downstairs and sing it for our elderly neighbor, Mrs. Lowenstein. She was a little bird of a lady with cat-eye 60s eyeglasses and snowy white hair. Always so sweet to us children. I remember she cried after I sang it. I loved Mrs. Lowenstein.
But I never had a latke when I was young. Not even one. We used to try and make them with our French fries. We would sing the song and roll the fries in our mitts and squish them flat and imagine we were eating latkes.
And even when I went to college, and my freshman roommate and aspiring rabbi, Shoshannah and I celebrated Shabbat together at the Kosher Co-Op on Friday nights, I still never saw a latke. I tasted brisket for the first time at a lovely Seder dinner and honestly, it was so good, I almost converted right then and there, but there were no latkes. Maybe they were a strictly Hanukkah thing.
I did have a potato pancake at a German restaurant in D.C. a couple of years ago and I was like, potato pancake, where have you been all my life?
And today, I made some potato pancakes. I thought they were latkes! But I was wrong. I made Kartoffelpuffer but that’s okay because they are delicious and not entirely different from latkes…
They are accompanied with applesauce or sour cream, just like latkes, for one thing. The apple sauce and sour cream do something magical to these potato pancakes. My first taste of one by itself and I thought, well, that was a lot of work for this. But then, I added a little applesauce. Heaven! Same with sour cream. Delectable.
But I missed the latke boat. Latkes are not as cakey as what I made. Oh, well.
Here is my recipe. It makes 12 – 13 large, dense potato pancakes or 24 mini ones.
About 4-6 large “baked potato” size, organic Russet potatoes (or the equivalent combination of smaller ones). You are aiming for about 4-5 cups of shredded potatoes.
1 small to medium yellow onion, diced
1 Tbsp (or more, to taste) of freeze-dried chives (optional)
1 Tbsp salt
6 large eggs
1 cup – 2 cups of flour (you will adjust as needed)
Canola oil (smell first and if you haven’t used it in a while, ditch)
Applesauce and/or sour cream
Put the shredded potatoes in a colander and press with a clean cheesecloth, paper towels or tea towels, until you get most of the moisture out and they appear “dry” and separate easily with a fork.
In a large mixing bowl, mix potatoes, onion, chives, salt and eggs. It will look very wet. Add flour, a 1/4 cup at a time, blending until mixture still looks wet and gooey, but not so liquidy. You don’t want dough. The mixture shouldn’t clump together in balls. It should be more like chunky pancake batter.
Heat canola oil in a Dutch oven (not your nice Creuset one) or deep frying pan over medium-high heat, about 2 minutes. It should be enough oil to cover the pan to about a 1/8 inch depth if non-stick, maybe more if not non-stick. I prefer a Dutch oven over a frying pan because it shields me better from any hot oil spatter. Test the oil for hotness by dropping a bit of batter in it.
Take a large spoon of the mixture, drop it into the hot oil, spread with the back of a spoon. Mine immediately took form. They did not look “spidery” like you see in some photos of latkes. They looked more like salmon cakes or burgers. I added two more spoons to make them large pancakes, a little bigger than the size of my palm. I could fit three at a time in my Dutch oven. Fry three minutes on each side, until golden. They will be thick, thicker than pancakes. Carefully remove and drain on paper towels. Serve in a single layer; do not stack on a platter
Tip: Don’t fry them until they’re “brown” if you are making them ahead to freeze for later. Fry them until they’re “blonde.” That way, when you reheat them, they won’t burn in the oven. Unless you are going to eat them all right away, of course!
- Enjoy with applesauce or sour cream. (Or in my case, both!)
- Serve them with a main dish, like sauerbraten, sausages or Swedish meatballs.
- Appetizer: make minil ones (with just one spoon of batter). Top with a little sour cream and smoked salmon, garnished with a wisp of fresh dill. Or try topped with creme fraiche and lumpfish caviar. You want something light, cool and fresh on top to balance the pancake.
Freeze and reheat directions
These freeze and reheat wonderfully! They make a great quick breakfast 🙂 and they are not greasy or oily at all. To freeze, place cooled pancakes in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Top with plastic wrap. Freeze overnight. In the morning, place into plastic freeer bags for up to 2 weeks.
To reheat, do not thaw. Place on cookie sheet in oven 400 degrees for ten to 15 minutes.
Enjoy and have a Happy Hanukkah!
Tagged: potato pancakes