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Latkes bring people together during Hanukkah

Mandi Wright | MCT
Mandi Wright | MCT
Esther Kraft, 81, of Farmington Hills, Michigan, shares her mother's recipe and technique of cooking the finest latkes Tuesday, December 4.
By Susan M. Selasky, Detroit Free Press

At countless Hanukkah celebrations, latkes will be there.

These fried potato pancakes are among the symbolic holiday staples that bring Jewish people together during the eight-day Festival of Lights, which began at sundown Saturday.

Homemade or store-bought, topped or not, variations to these fried potato pancakes are endless.

But most everyone agrees: Latkes should be crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle.

Esther Kraft, 81, of Farmington Hills, Mich., has been making latkes for more than 50 years. She makes them the way her mother taught her and the way she taught her children and grandchildren to make them.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Kraft saidof making latkes with her family. “We laugh a lot, and we all work together to make them — and then eat them.”

Kraft sticks to a basic recipe. She uses russet potatoes because they don’t have as much moisture as other varieties. An essential step in the process, she says, is placing the shredded potatoes in a tea towel and twisting it to squeeze out the excess moisture.

“Using a dish cloth absorbs more water,” Kraft says. “But you also don’t want to make them too dry.”

Latkes are a simple mixture of peeled and shredded potato mixed with grated onion, eggs and some flour to bind it all together. Spooned into hot oil, latkes are flattened and then fried. The oil represents the miracle that occurred in the Second Century B.C., when a one-day supply of oil left for the Jerusalem temple’s eternal light lasted eight days.

Kraft’s daughter Helayne Kaplan, 55, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., says making latkes together turns the chore into a fun activity during which family memories are made.

“It’s the sizzle of them hitting the hot oil in the pan, the smell of the grease and the crunch of the latke,” Kaplan said.

For Micki Lynn, 41, of West Bloomfield, Mich., latkes are a tradition whether they are homemade or bought.

In recent years, Lynn’s family and friends began gathering at a local bowling alley, where they celebrate Hanukkah with pizza, salad — and latkes .

And, she says, there is nothing wrong with store-bought latkes.

“It’s more important that (latkes) be there, whether they come from one’s kitchen or not,” Lynn said.

Go for a savory flavor or something sweet

Here are eight flavorful latke toppings for the eight nights of Hanukkah:

Salmon spread: Mix sour cream with chopped fresh dill and capers. Spread on latkes and top with chopped smoked salmon.

Spicy applesauce: Spruce up plain applesauce with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Cranberry sauce: Mix whole cranberry sauce with chopped or shredded apple. Serve with sweet potato latkes.

Herb cream: Mix sour cream with freshly chopped herbs.

Chipotle mayo: Mix 1 chipotle chili pepper in canned adobo sauce with ½ cup reduced-fat mayonnaise.

Cinnamon sour cream: Whisk 1 cup reduced-fat sour cream with 2 teaspoons sugar and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon.

Apple and onion: Mix chopped apple and chopped onion with lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Serve with sweet potato latkes.

Asian fusion: Mix 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce, 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, 1 teaspoon rice vinegar and 1 tablespoon sweet Asian-style chili sauce. Serve with green onion latkes.

Liven up recipes

If you’re looking to change up your latke repertoire, think outside the spud.

Instead of plain white potatoes, try sweet potatoes and other root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, beets; or shredded vegetables like zucchini or summer squash. Or use a mixture of white potatoes with other vegetables.

Also consider mixing up your seasonings and aromatics and using sauteed leeks in place of onions and fresh herbs. Be sure to peel all root vegetables.

And when choosing the potatoes, consider the all-purpose russet potato. A starchy potato with less moisture, it will hold the mixture together better. Yukon Gold potatoes are also a fine choice; they will produce a latke with a creamier texture.

—Sources: Rachael Ray magazine, December 2012, issue; www.ou.org/shabbat; Free Press archived recipes

Esther Kraft’s Potato Latkes

Makes: About 24

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Lemon juice

6 russet potatoes

1 large peeled, quartered onion

4 eggs

¼ cup flour

¼ cup matzo meal or as needed

1 tablespoon salt

Canola oil as needed


Peel the potatoes and then cut them into cubes. As you cube them place the cubes in a bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent them from darkening.

In a food processor, grate the potatoes and the onion. Once grated, remove the mixture from the food processor and place in a tea towel. Bring up the edges, encasing the potato mixture, twist to squeeze and press out as much water as you can. Put the mixture in a bowl and add the eggs, flour, matzo meal and salt.

In a large skillet, heat about ¼-inch of oil over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, and working in batches, place heaping tablespoons (almost 2 tablespoons) of the potato mixture in the hot oil and flatten it. Brown the latke about 1 ½ minutes on each side.

Repeat with remaining mixture, pressing the mixture against the side of the bowl when you scoop it out to drain any more excess liquid.

Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Serve latkes with sour cream or applesauce.

Analysis per 1 latke: 128 calories (38 percent from fat ), 5 grams fat (1 gram sat. fat ), 17 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 312 mg sodium, 35 mg cholesterol, 2 grams fiber.

Sweet Potato and Apples Latkes

Makes: 18 latkes

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

2 sweet potatoes (about 1 pound ), peeled and quartered lengthwise

½ onion, peeled and quartered

¼ cup flour

1 egg

Coarse salt and pepper

½ teaspoon baking powder

Canola oil for frying

1 ½ cups fresh cranberries

¾ cup sugar

½ cup water

1 apple

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg


Using a food processor fitted with a coarse grating disk, grate the potatoes and onion; discard any large pieces. Transfer the mixture to a clean dish towel and squeeze out any excess liquid, then transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the flour, egg, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and the baking powder.

In medium saucepan, boil fresh cranberries, sugar and water, stirring. Lower heat and simmer until cranberries soften and burst, 10 minutes; let cool. To food processor, add 1 medium peeled, cored and quartered apple with sweet potato and onion and grate. Add nutmeg to batter.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches, drop 2-tablespoon scoops of batter into the pan about 2 inches apart. Using a spatula, flatten the batter into disks. Cook, turning once, until browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. (Lower the heat if the latkes darken too quickly.) Drain on paper towels. Serve with cranberry sauce.

Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine, December 2012.

Analysis per latke.: 132 calories (43 percent from fat ), 6 grams fat (1 grams sat. fat), 18 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 53 mg sodium, 14 mg cholesterol, 1 grams fiber.


Makes: 12 (large latkes)

Preparation time: 45 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided, plus more for frying

3 ounces spinach, stems removed, chopped (about 4 cups)

2 leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced

Kosher salt

4 green onions, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)

1 pound russet potatoes

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

¼ cup fresh dill, chopped

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Freshly ground pepper

Tzatziki, for serving (optional)


Heat 1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the spinach and cook until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a colander set in a large bowl; refrigerate until cold, about 15 minutes. Squeeze out any excess moisture; set the spinach aside.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the leeks, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the green onion and cook 3 to 4 more minutes. Let cool.

Peel the potatoes and grate on the large holes of a box grater. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel, gather into a pouch and twist closed, then squeeze over the sink to remove as much liquid as possible. Transfer to a large bowl; add the leek-scallion mixture, spinach, eggs, flour, dill, feta, 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper and mix with your hands until combined.

In a large skillet, heat ½-inch vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, scoop about 2 tablespoons of the potato mixture into the pan for each latke and flatten with a spatula; fry until golden brown and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining mixture. Serve with tzatziki sauce if desired.

—From Food Network Magazine, December 2012 issue.

Analysis per 1 latke: 160 calories (66 percent from fat), 12 grams fat (3 grams sat. fat), 9 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 266 mg sodium, 64 mg cholesterol, 1 gram fiber.

©2012 Detroit Free Press

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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