In my family, it wouldn’t be Hanukkah without latkes (potato and onion pancakes) with apple sauce. We love them so much we make them the main dish! It’s the one time of the year I am charmed to see both my parents collaborating in the kitchen, and since I gave them a Cuisinart, they get more enjoyment than ever out of the project.
Most people would agree that the best latkes are the ones your mother makes but I really do think these are the best. Perhaps it’s because of the Idaho potatoes, which hold together better than the usual waxy type and result in a much less oily potato cake. When my friendDiane, who also grew up on latkes, tasted these I said, “Admit it! Aren’t these the best you ever tasted?” Her response was priceless: “Please! My mother is still alive.”
This recipe actually comes from an old and dear family friend, Celia Hindin, who is no longer alive. Celia grew up in Russia. She claimed they understand potatoes better there. She taught my mother this simple way of making potato pancakes using only potatoes and onion grated so fine it disappears into the potatoes. But it was to me that she left her magnificent sterling silver latke spoon. She claimed that the best latkes are prepared using a silver spoon to drop them into the hot fat. To this day I am unsure if this is based on a scientific reaction (after all, Celiawas a laboratory technician) or pure bubameisis (old wives’ tale from the Old Country).
Traditionally, according to the kosher laws, when latkes are to be served with a fish meal, they are fried in oil and served with sour cream; when served with meat, they are fried in chicken fat and served with apple sauce.
These potato pancakes are lighter and more rustic and lacy than the traditional ones made with the addition of flour and egg. My mother, who always fries them in oil, also rejoices in the fact that they are far healthier this way but I modify that somewhat by the flavorful addition of goose or chicken fat! My father likes using the food processor to shred the potatoes because he says the potatoes exude more water, enabling them to hold together better.
Latkes are most delicious when freshly made so in our family we fry up a batch just before we are about to eat and then we take turns popping up to spoon in and turn over subsequent batches while we are eating.