Latkes and Compromise: The Secret to a Happy Marriage

with sour cream and applesauce 1

Several weeks ago I was asked if I would appear on a local cable TV show and demonstrate how to make “low-fat ” latkes. This disturbed me greatly and I quickly responded that unfortunately I do not believe in low fat latkes. I think latkes are meant to be eaten only once a year, the real way. (fried in oil!) A once a year indulgence really celebrates and honours Chanukah the way it was intended. She responded “OK – You’ve convinced me!  You make a good point.  I was thinking of the healthy diets people are seeking.  But you’re right that maybe the normal latkes represent what Chanukah is about.  So let’s go ahead.” Unfortunately, the timing of the taping coincided with when I was going to be out-of-town, so we shelved the idea for next year.

This Saturday (December 8) marks the first night of Chanukah. In the second Century, the Holy Land was ruled by Syrian Greeks. King Antiochus IV was in control of the region. Under his rule, Jews were severely oppressed and not allowed to practice their religion openly. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it. When they sought to light the Temple’s menorah they found only a single vial of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days. And hence, the reason for the tradition of eating foods fried in oil during Chanukah.

Every year I see recipes for all kinds of variations on the traditional latke. Several years ago  Bon Appetit magazine promised a “Gorgeous Chanukah Feast” featuring both cumin scented beet latkes and gingered carrot latkes.   While at first glance they seem intriguing, I could not actually see myself preparing either of these or any of the other interesting variations I have read about.  In the first place my family would revolt.  In the second place, I only make latkes once a year and I crave the traditional potato variety from my childhood.  I suspect that many of your families are similar to mine and sweet potato-parsnip latkes would not be met with cheers of joy.

My mother has an incredible sense of smell.  In our family, we joke that she can smell foul odours a day before they actually occur.  My childhood memories are filled with her going from room to room, sniffing and muttering, “What’s that smell?”  One of her least favorite smells was that of food cooked in oil.  She claimed that she could smell the oil for weeks afterwards.  Now I must be honest here and admit that I inherited my father’s sense of smell – that is to say that his lack of sense of smell.  He had sinus problems and his nose malfunctioned often.

That being said, once a year, on Chanukah, we had latkes. My mom’s latkes are fantastic.  They are lacy shreds of potatoes, fried until crisp.  The lingering smell of frying oil was quickly chased away by my mother’s secret blend of cleaning agents, a potent, lethal combination of Joy and Ajax.  Do not try this at home unless you are wearing a gas mask.

The first time my husband took me home to meet his family (we were not married yet, we had only been dating for about 3 months) was during Chanukah. His mom made latkes.  They were thick and creamy, not the thin lacy crispy shredded latkes that I grew up with.  After we were married we had our families over for a Chanukah party.  Of course, we could not agree on which kind of latkes to make, so we ended up making both.  The guests were starving by the time the latkes actually appeared at the table so both kinds were gobbled up very quickly.  Not being able to resolve which type were superior, I created a compromise recipe.  These latkes are thin and crispy around the edges, but still creamy in the centre.

Russet potatoes are my choice for the best latkes.

potatoes peeled

A Cuisinart makes fast work of the shredding.

cuisinart

Half the shredded potatoes are set aside and the other half go back in the Cuisinart with an onion to be coarsely chopped with the steel blade.

onions and potatoes in cuisinart

onions and potatoes processed

The shredded and grated potatoes and onions get wrapped in cheesecloth and then you squeeze the heck out of them. Let the liquid sit for a few minutes. Drain off the liquid but keep the potato starch. This is the secret to latkes that do not fall apart while cooking.

cheesecloth

potato liquid and starch

Add a beaten egg, some kosher salt and about 2 tablespoons of matzoh meal or panko bread crumbs.

egg and matzoh meal

I like to fry my latkes in vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet. A heavy-duty non-stick pan will work if you do not have cast iron. A slotted serving spoon makes it easy to get the latke mixture into the pan.

frying 1a

frying 3

I made some applesauce to go with the latkes. No recipe here. I used a combination of Granny Smith, Honey Crisp and Golden delicious apples. I quartered the apples. No need to peel or seed if you have a food mill. I added about 1/2 a cup of   water to the pot, covered it with a lid and cooked it on medium heat for about 10 minutes until soft. Then I put the whole mess through the food mill, which does a great job of filtering out the peel and seeds.

apples

apples in pot

apples in food mill

Click here to print recipe for Compromise Latkes .

with sour cream and applesauce 1

70 thoughts on “Latkes and Compromise: The Secret to a Happy Marriage

  1. Sandra Jonas

    Thanks for the tip about using the potato starch. My latkes should taste better this year, I always have to add lots of matzo meal and the taste is always ‘missing’ something.
    Happy Hanukkah!

    Reply
  2. Bob Vivant

    Your latkes look so tasty! My sense of smell is pretty keen–I can almost smell these in Chicago ;)

    I’ve never made latkes before, but Greg loves them or any crispy potato dish. Good for you for taking a stand against the “Healthy Latke”. Someone recently asked me for a low-fat tiramisu recipe. Huh?

    Happy Chanukah!

    Reply
  3. L. Palmer

    I’m impressed with your integrity with Latkes. That’s like asking someone to make a ‘low fat donut.’ It’s just wrong.
    I don’t celebrate Chanukah myself, but I might make some Latkes.

    Reply
  4. ravenvinnie

    Thanks for that post, I enjoyed that! I enjoy hearing about other cultures, but you added the spin of it being a personal story (who doesn’t like a story?) and it being useful to the reader in a few ways. Nice post, and again thanks.

    It would be real a-nize if you could do me a couple favors;

    A) just go to Ravenvinnie.wordpress.com
    2) Follow (I followed you already)

    Thanks!
    -Raven Vinnie

    Reply
  5. katiedz

    My husband is a pastry chef here in Israel and the smell of frying on his clothes etc after a day making donuts at this time of year is terrible – your Mum would have revolted!!
    I didn’t know you put onions in latkes- this is my first year of eating latkes and so far its carrot, sweet potato and potato all the way. Yours look delish, will give it a go

    Reply
  6. howtocare4me

    Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I’ve truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again
    soon!

    Reply
  7. this is lemonade

    I have never had latkes but I love hash browns. Or any fried potato products, to be honest. (Or anything fried in oil actually…) I must say these look absolutely delicious and that potato starch tip is invaluable! Thank you for sharing this recipe, I intend to try it soon! Happy Chanukah :)

    Reply
  8. rkutchjm

    Mighty good eating. Excellent visuals and well written blog. Love your style. I don’t eat fried foods but would make an exception for the latkes. Great job!

    Reply
  9. SoJosMom

    I married into a Jewish family. I love latkes! I have been trying to find a good recipe. Last year, I shredded the potatoes. This year, I used a food processor until they were smooth and creamy. I have been looking for something in the middle. This ‘compromise’ may be the answer. Thank you so much!

    This is my first time visiting your blog! Looks great!

    Reply
  10. strawberryquicksand

    What a great post! Thank you for pausing at every step and taking photographs. My mum (no, we are not Jewish) makes almond crescent biscuits (derived from some other nationality so probably has an awesome foreign name that has somehow gotten itself lost in the strands of time) annually for me at Christmas. This Christmas I will not be anywhere near my mum so was thinking to get her to post me some in the mail!!!! What a great idea, right? Well, maybe I can wait until my late January visit when it is cooler so she won’t mind having the oven cranking for the entire day to sate my Christmas whims.

    Reply
  11. michaelthewriterguy

    Reblogged this on michaelthewriterguy and commented:
    Very interesting article. I would recommend new couples read this so they can begin to understand what commitment means. As someone newly engaged, I believe this article gives some very interesting perspective to the meaning of love and how to keep passion alive.

    Reply
    1. saltandserenity

      Thanks Michael! As someone who has been married for almost 28 years, I will admit that compromise on latkes (and many other things) has helped our marriage thrive! Good luck on your marriage journey.

      Reply
  12. Pingback: Veggie Latkes – A Feast for the Soul « jittery cook

  13. Sharyn

    You are a woman after my own heart! Though we stick with crispy potato latkes in my house. Even as a registered dietitian I avoid the “healthy new-fangled” latkes and continue to follow the traditional recipe once a year.
    Chag sameach

    Reply
  14. laurierappeport

    Well, I did manage to make pretty good “low cal” latkes. I basically used the regular recipe, minus matza meal and added grated carrots too. It had a minimum of oil in the batter (though there were the regular amount of eggs), and baked it. Then, when it was pretty firm, I cut it into squares and baked it more, flipping the pieces, to make them nice and crispy. Got good reviews.
    safed.blogspot.co.il

    Reply
  15. urbanpaleochef

    For a similar recipe, but more flavor, you could do this with zucchini instead of potatoes, and use coconut flower instead of the matza meal. The combination of zucchini and coconut flower for a latke will come taste great!
    Thanks for the post!

    Reply

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