This year the Chanukah holiday — “Celebration of Lights” or “Feast of Rededication” — begins on December 13. I’m making Potato Latkes which are small fried potato pancakes traditionally served during this holiday. The holiday observance begins at sundown on the preceding evening; so I’ll serve my Potato Latkes at dinner tonight. My recipe is perhaps a bit unusual; I stumbled on an ingredient which adds “zing” to the pancakes quite by accident.
Chanukah Holiday (or Hanukkah Holiday)
Chanukah is the eight-day Jewish holiday which falls in November or December depending on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. The holiday remembers the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem in 164 BCE after it was it was liberated by Judah Maccabee and his followers from the Greek Seleucid Empire rulers and oppressors.
There was only enough oil for the menorah or candelabrum in the Temple to burn for one night. The candelabrum was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. But by a miracle the oil burned for eight nights–enough time to procure more sacred oil. Hence the holiday is observed for eight nights and candles are lit on the menorah for each of the eight nights.
Therefore, it is a tradition to eat fried foods on Chanukah because of the significance of oil to the holiday. Potato Latkes is one such food item. The pancakes are traditionally served with applesauce and sour cream. And they don’t have to be served only during Chanukah, these potato pancakes are good any time of the year.
Dreidel — Gambling Game of Chance
The game of Dreidel is another Chanukah tradition and I imagine that most Jewish families have a collection of driedels or spinning tops. To play the game, each person begins with a number of coins, beans or M&M’s. One player spins the dreidel. Depending on how the top lands; you either give up or get more coins. The game continues until someone succeeds in getting all the coins. It is a fun game to play provided that you use a top that actually spins.
According to tradition, it was illegal to study the Torah in the temple during the time of Antiochus’ oppression. The youth would do their schooling until a soldier was in sight. Then they would conceal their books and play gambling games with a top until the soldier passed.
Potato Latke Recipe
My potato latke recipe has some “zing” quite by chance which averted a disaster. I had invited friends over for supper. When it was time to fry the latkes, I reached up into the cabinet for oil and realized it was almost all gone. Ouch. You cannot make latkes without oil. In the back of the cabinet I spied some oil with chili. The resulting latkes were the best I’ve ever made. They certainly had zing.
Here are the ingredients for my latkes: russet potatoes, a small onion, eggs & flour, and seasonings of salt and pepper. The “zing” comes from either adding Tabasco sauce to the mix or adding a small amount of chili oil to the frying oil. I tried both methods to add “zing” and decided that both worked well.
To make the latkes, first shred the potatoes. These were huge Russet potatoes; you need about 1-1/2 pounds or 2 to 3 of these potatoes. This was about 6 cups of shredded potatoes and I needed 3 eggs for this amount. To speed things up, I used a food processor to shred the potatoes–this resulted in a course texture. For finer pancakes, shred by hand which is the traditional way to make latkes. Shred the onion, too.
You will notice that once shredded, the potatoes quickly become pink or reddish and if fried they turn grey. When the shredded potatoes (and disrupted cells) are exposed to oxygen, the phenol components in the potato cells react to turn pink. Submerge the shredded potatoes in cold water to limit the exposure to oxygen. It really works.
Fry on medium high heat, I set my stove at “7” and cooked over a several minute period. Turn over and fry the other side. Add more oil as needed to fry additional batches. After this photo, I improved upon the technique of gathering the shreds of potatoes to fit inside the spoon making a nicer pancake.
This recipe made 16 to 18 latkes. Drain the latkes on a paper towel and keep warm in an oven turned on low heat (200 degrees) until ready to serve.
What about the chili oil? I prefer adding a few drops of Tabasco sauce to the pancake mix — stir well to combine — rather they frying in chili oil. The oriental chili oil that I had available this time was very potent. You only need a teaspoon added to each batch along with the cooking oil to add “zing.” Don’t over do things on the Tabasco sauce or chili oil — a little goes a long way.
These are delicious latkes — crisp and flavorful. Easy to eat too many.!
Potato Latkes with Zing
- 1-1/2 pounds of large Russet potatoes (about 3 potatoes) to make 6 cups shredded potatoes
- 1 small onion
- 3 large eggs
- 1/3 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 6 drops Tabasco sauce*
- oil such as corn, peanut or canola oil for frying
- sour cream and apples sauce for serving
- fresh dill for garnish (optional)
Method and Steps
- Pare potatoes, remove eyes. Shred potatoes In large food processor bowl. Immediately remove and submerge shredded potatoes in large bowl of cold water.
- Peel and quarter onion. Grate onion by hand or using food processor. Add to potatoes in cold water.
- Add the eggs to large bowl and use wire whip beat. Add flour, salt, black pepper and Tabasco sauce.* Mix well to combine.
- Drain potatoes and onion in colander, cover with paper towel and use your hand to press down to remove as much moisture as possible.
- Add the potatoes and onions to the egg mixture and toss to combine well and coat all potatoes.
- Heat several tablespoons of oil in large heavy skillet to medium-high. Swirl to coat bottom of skillet. Add 1/4 cup of potatoes to a cook’s spoon, gather potato shreds so all are inside spoon. Add to hot oil and press down slightly to flatten. Repeat with additional pancakes until skillet is full. Fry for about three minutes on each side until golden brown. Add additional oil as needed until all latkes are fried.
- Removed fried laktkes to oven-proof plate or baking pan covered with paper towels. Keep warm in 200 degree oven until time to serve.
- Serve pancakes with sour cream and applesauce. Garnish, if desired, with fresh dill.
*May omit Tabasco sauce and add 1 tsp oriental chili oil to the frying oil when frying each latke batch.