Posted by: thedirtybaker | December 22, 2011

The Dirty Fryer, part 1: Mom’s Latkes

It’s Hanukkah!  Or Chanukkah!  Or Hanukah! Or Chanukah!  Or Hankka, if you can’t spell.

In other words, it’s the Jewish Festival of Lights.  It began on Tuesday night, and will continue through next Wednesday at Sundown.  Religiously speaking, it’s not an important holiday.  While it commemorates the victory of religiously motivated Jewish guerillas over a major empire, it is a post-biblical holiday (from the Jewish perspective), and the early rabbis were not big fans, for the most part (or so I’m told).  They were concerned about the inherent nationalism of it, which was dangerous during the Roman era.  And the Byzantine era.   And the early Muslim period.  And the … well, pretty much up to the late 19th century.

But people loved celebrating Hanukkah, and wanted a holiday in the darkest part of winter, so the Rabbis emphasized a different aspect of the holiday.  According to the legend, when the Judaeans got the Temple back from the Syrian Greeks, there was only one small jug of pure oil, and they needed 8 days to make and bring the oil to the Temple.  Miraculously, the oil lasted for 8 days, and for that reason Jews light candles for 8 nights around the winter solstice

The food tie-in (Jewish holidays always have foods, unless they’re fast days) commemorates the oil, meaning: FRIED FOOD!  Ashkenazi Jews (Eastern and Central European Jews whose ancestors lived in Germany and spoke Yiddish) traditionally eat latkes, a.k.a. potato pancakes.  If you’re thinking that sounds really weird, think of hash browns.  Mmmmm….. Hash browns.  Nope, no bacon for the traditional Jews, but latkes are delicious!  And we eat them with sour cream or applesauce – there are big debates over which is better.  (They’re both good.)

My side job is teaching first graders on Sunday mornings at a Reform temple, in spite of being not at all religious myself.  I like working with the kids, and I’ve been doing it for a really long time, so it’s pretty easy for me.  For the past two years, I made latkes with the kids (and with adult help, since little kids plus hot oil equals danger, otherwise).  We made a double batch, and the kids got to run around the Temple with an adult or teacher’s aide (and I have fantastic assistants!) with extras to give to people who work there.  They LOVE giving food that they made away – they’re so proud of themselves!

We used my mother’s recipe, more or less; both the kids and  most of the adults really liked them.  One of the recipients asked me to get his wife to use my recipe instead of hers – they tasted like his grandmother’s latkes.  (I told him that was up to him.)  The parent who helped out with the frying decided to do a comparative taste-testing between his usual recipe and mine.  One kid told me a week later that she wanted my mother to come visit the class so they could tell her how much they liked her latke recipe.

It’s worth noting that my recipe is super-easy.  One of the big questions in latke-making is texture – shredded potatoes and onions v. pulverized.  The recipe actually calls for the blender, which pulverizes, but I use the food processor, and leave more texture. These came out partly shredded and partly pulverized, because the first graders LOVED using the food processor.

Here’s my version of the recipe:


3 eggs

5-6 med. potatoes (I used about 7 large ones.  No need to peel them.)

3 slices onions (I used 2 medium onions)

2 lg. springs parsley (I didn’t bother)

1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 tsp. salt


Cut the potatoes into chunks (peel them if you want to, but I don’t), and then put those chunks and the onion into the food processor until they are the desired texture. Mix in the eggs well, and then mix in the dry ingredients, just to mix.  Fry in oil in hot skillet.  Makes 10-12 pancakes.

Looks easy, right?  It is.

Top with sour cream or applesauce and enjoy!


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