Basic Potato Latkes Recipe for Hanukkah – My Inner Jew Wants Out

Basic Potato Latkes, Homemade Applesauce
Every once in a while, I reach deep inside myself and pull out…my inner Jew. You see, everyone has an inner Jew, whether or not they are an outer Jew (I am not an outer Jew, though that boundary is becoming increasingly unclear). Now, I won’t go into the details of inner Jews because I may end up getting sued or worse yet, someone’s mother will come and smack me. But I will say that my inner Jew cooks a lot and makes you eat it whether or not you are hungry.

These once-in-a-whiles, when my inner Jew wins out over my inner Hello Kitty, most often coincide with Jewish holidays. I became enviously aware of Jewish holidays during my elementary and middle school years in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where 85% of my friends were Jewish. When Jewish friends were absent from school en masse, I was first jealous at how lucky they were to have the day off, then second, mildly pissed off that while I shared Christmas days off with them, they didn’t share Yom Kippur with me. To add insult to my injury, their parents threw ooh-la-la see-and-be-seen parties in rented hotel ballrooms that had everything from elaborate invitations to matching themed decorations that almost always involved an impressive balloon arch. I bet I went to more bar and mat mitzvahs than any pre-pubescent Korean girl you know.

However, it’s not only my angst-strewn childhood and adolescent years of being not-Jewish that have contributed to my utter fascination with Jewish holidays. The history and traditions that drive Jewish religious holidays are almost always related to food in one way or another. Many of the holidays are commemorated with a family meal (sounds kind of like Korean New Year’s Day!). But the most interesting connection between Jewish holidays and food is the Torah’s strict dietary laws that rule much of how the holiday is observed.

So, I usually rely on the holidays to teach my inner Jew about her culture because let’s face it, I’m not going to wake up on any given Sunday morning and think “I’m making matzo ball soup today.”

A couple of Springs ago, I taught myself a little about the Jewish culture and religion by making coconut macaroons (which were blasphemed with a dip in white chocolate), matzo ball soup, matzo brei, and haroset for Passover. I wanted to continue my course of study in early autumn with a few more lessons through the High Holy Days, but I got a little distracted by a pinkslip. I still learned about the two-day celebration of the start of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement ten days later that seals the beginning of the new year (Yom Kippur). I just didn’t get to try my hand at the little round challah for Rosh Hashanah that symbolizes the cycle of the year, nor my first noodle kugel for breaking the fast on that last day in which Jews spend time in reflection and prayer. Those will be special projects in years to come. I can’t learn everything at once.

Hanukkah is a little bit different from the other Jewish holidays. In my very unofficial studies of the Jewish culture, I have learned that Hanukkah is a secular holiday, whereas Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur are religious holidays. I didn’t know there was a difference since all of it comes from Jewish history, but I guess that is where we think about that line between Jewish culture and Jewish religion. Oy vey. So it’s still all very confusing and I need to study more about the difference between the Talmud and the Torah, but let’s just say that the Festival of Lights is a December holiday, so I drink Manischewitz on Christmas day. I start in the morning with Christmas gift unwrapping, but come on, every inner Jew knows that Jewish holidays start at sundown, so yes, I drink Manischewitz at dinner, too. Kosher Manischewitz, particularly the blackberry, pairs very well with Christmas ham.

Other than toasting with Manischewitz on each of the 12 Days of Christmas, I don’t do much else for the remaining seven days of Hanukkah. I don’t have a menorah to light on each of the eight nights, and the little gold foil-wrapped chocolates at my parents’ house are Almond Roca, not gelt. Besides, I don’t gamble, and the whole dreidl game is a very suspicious combination of roulette and craps.

During the Festival of Fried Foods, I make latkes. I was also hoping to get some sufganyiot in there as well, because my God, they’re basically Jewish doughnuts, right? But again, I have to take this whole conversion thing one holiday at a time.

Traditionally, latkes are served with either sour cream, which sounds totally awesome, or applesauce, which fit better with my new year’s resolutions. My inner Jew is on a diet.
Basic Potato Latkes, Fried

Basic Potato Latkes Recipe

This is just a basic recipe for potato latkes, culled together from recipes all over the web, in my recipe box, and in cookbooks on my shelf. There are more and more recipes that add different vegetables like butternut squash, carrots, or sweet potatoes, but before I try something more creative, I like to understand the why by mastering a basic recipe.

This explains why everything I ever cook is a basic.

Basic Potato Latkes Ingredients:

1 pound Russet potatoes (a very large Russet potato is about ½-¾ pound)
½ large onion
1 large egg, lightly beaten
(1-2 teaspoons all-purpose flour, optional to help pancakes hold together)
salt + pepper to taste
enough oil and butter to fry

Basic Potato Latkes Directions:

Keep a large bowl of cold water on the counter.

Peel and grate potatoes on the largest holes. It seems most recipes use a box grater, but I used my Japanese mandoline, aka “Benriner.”

Keep grated potatoes in bowl of cold water. Swirl, let soak for a bit, then drain grated potatoes in colander. Squeeze out as much water as possible by pressing on grated potatoes in the colander with paper towels.

Over a large mixing bowl, grate onion on the smallest holes/finest setting, catching the “onion juice” in the bowl for flavor. Add the shredded potatoes, egg, and salt. Stir to combine.

Heat 1 tablespoon each of oil and butter together in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons potato mixture per latke into skillet. Flatten slightly with spoon, fry until golden brown about 3 minutes, then flip over and finish frying. Remove latkes from skillet to plate lined with paper towels.

Homemade Applesauce for Potato Latkes

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  • Kalyn

    Great photo of the latkes.

  • Rachael

    Beautiful photo. (Blows mine out of the water! LOL)

    Now tell me…lately have you been serializing your posts? I see a few lines one hour and a few more the next…is that my computer or are you just a tease? (wink)

    Rachael

    PS – The next Jewish Holiday is Tu Bishvat (Birthday of the trees. Yes. Really) in Feb, where everyone eats fruit and “connects with nature” I expect an excellent post…

  • Rose

    I’ve noticed the same thing with the posts. One day its a few lines and then *poof!* a whole long entry.

    Temptress aren’t you, Ms. Sarah :-)

    Next to gefilte fish (only the HOMEMAD KIND–no canned yucky stuff for me), latkes are my favorite jewish holiday food.

  • sarah

    yes, ladies,i have! you caught me! actually, the thing is, i get so excited to post, buti can’t put all my words together, so i just up the picture first lol!

    but that is one of my resolutions for the new year! to post like a normal person and not some strange ADD stricken blogger. LOL!

  • sarah

    oh, by the way…racahel you have to tell me more about the jewish tree hugger holiday!!!

    rose: i like gefilte fish, too, but i’ve never had the homemade kind!!! do you make it yourself?!?!?

  • Rose

    Yes, I make it myself. Well, okay my mom makes it. But over the last 3 years I’ve been helping her, so I can learn do it myself.

    This year I’m prepared to actually blog about it. Stay tuned.

    I don’t recall any holiday foods related to Tu B’shvat–I just remember asking my parents for money so I could buy another tree for a forest in Israel.

  • Ellen Bloom

    Your latkes are gorgeous! It’s OK to eat them after Chanukah is over…they always taste much better when life isn’t so hectic. Mazeltov!

  • sarah

    hi ellen! thanks! and yes, i am beginning to think that latkes will replace boring old hash browns for breakfast!

  • Rachael

    You have a big fruit fest. Just eat all kinds of “holy land” food. Dates, figs, pomegranates, that sort of thing. Its cool. The kabbalists do a big thing too, Im just not sure what. (Mabye we can email Britney Spears and find out. LOL) Probably more tree hugging than regular folk. LOL. Its kinda Jewish arbor day really (and has something to do with taxes, but that gets complex).

    Ill remind you later to the date, K?

    Whats the next Korean holiday?

  • sarah

    i have no idea why, rachael, but “big fruit fest” just made me think that it’s some strange orgiastical party! LOL!! why? why on earth would i think that? LOL!

    this is so sad – i have no idea what the next big korean holiday is. i am a very bad korean. :)

  • craig

    hi sarah – throwing a lifeline – next holiday Korean Lunar New Year’s – January 29, 2006, personally I always thought it was more tradionally Chinese and not sure if you get the red envelopes.

    So Sarah, take your head out of oven or at least put down the ribs or other Texas que you are getting ready to chow down before the game.

    Normally rooting against USC is like breathing but I made a small wager that I would love to collect so I need a lot of points and an SC win.

    Craig

  • sarah

    sorry, craig, but i have a traditional rose bowl dinner at lawry’s on the line (i don’t looooove lawry’s but if it’s free, i am down).

    texas means i eat prime rib.

    usc means instant ramen.

    go longhorns!!!!

    (i already lost last night.)

  • Rose

    if you’re a bad korean girl, then I’m a bad jewish girl. Totally forgot that Tu B’shevat meant fruits. Whoops!

    And I should learn how to make noodle kugel too!

    P.S. homemade gefilte fish is delish :-)

  • Craig

    i expect pictures of the yorky pudding and the prime rib carts…congrats on the win, i knew it was bad karma to bet on the trojans…lol…but i am happy for you… :)

  • Video Louis Elovitz

    Here is my 89 year old Mom’s
    Potato Latke Recipe
    more here:
    http://www.positiveenergy.com/recipe.html

    Tillie’s POTATO LATKAS

    INGREDIENTS
    3 lg Idaho potatoes
    2 eggs
    oil
    1 small onion minced

    salt
    pepper
    flour

    bowl of water
    fry pan

    Clean peel Potatoes
    Put in Water [to deter discoloring]
    grate all Potatoes
    mix in 2 Eggs in bowl
    sift Flour on top of mixture
    [to deter discoloring]

    and will give time before frying
    then add
    Onions Salt and Pepper
    and blend together
    PUT tablespoon amount of mix into hot oil start oil on hot heat , lowering temperature
    Fry ‘pancakes’ in hot oil
    turning over when edges
    are white and center is brown

    Cook same second side
    remove and drain each

    RECOMMENDED

    serve immediately with apple sauce
    and maybe some sour cream.

    …a holiday favorite !

    enjoy.

    ©1916 Tillie Elovitz

  • Hilary

    Sarah Sarah Sarah. Lesson #1: No self respecting Jew actually drinks Manischewitz. There are other kosher wines out there that are a million times better!

    And…where did you go to elementary school in Bloomfield Hills? I went to Booth then when they closed it I went to Conant. I wonder if we went to school together?!

  • sarah

    hi hilary! lol! i know…but there’s something so nasty-sweet about manischewitz. i drank it when i was in elementary school :)

    and yes, i went to conant. we were in school together, i’m sure. i wish we had yearbooks or something from elementary school!

    omg. actually, i’m glad we don’t. i was FUGLY when i was little. LOL!

    how strange that you and i are both here! from conant! and now…in blog-world! LOL! ;)

  • hilary

    But…I do have all of my school pictures! I’m going to check them out tonight. Too funny!

    And also…we both know Eve. Pretty cool!

  • hilary

    Wait…how old are you?!

  • Anonymous

    lol! All this time I’ve been reading your blog I never knew that about you.
    I’m grew up in Bloomfield too! I went to West Hills & Andover. And now I live in Los Angeles with a quick detour thru SanFran. Small World! :)
    Hahah, I felt exactly like you in school since I’m an indian girl. There would be ~6 kids left in my whole grade on the jewish holidays.
    Strangely enough, I married a jewish guy and I know more about his customs than he does. hehe -g

  • Hillary

    As an outer Jew, I burst out laughing at this post! Nice job – way to keep in touch with your inner Jew!

    And mmmm….latkes are my FAVORITE part of Hanukkah!

  • Hillary

    As an outer Jew, I burst out laughing at this post! Nice job – way to keep in touch with your inner Jew!

    And mmmm….latkes are my FAVORITE part of Hanukkah!

  • Tamar1973

    Koreans do make latkes…well kind of. Kamja Jeon are basically very, very large latkes.
    I have a version on my youtube page. The latkes are the traditionally Jewish but the dipping sauces are Korean. I have a link to it on my youtube page.

  • http://www.thedeliciouslife.com Sarah J. Gim

    Tamai: I am not sure I have every had Korean gamja jeon, or at least not gamja jeon that resemble the shredded potato latkes. I have had very thin slices of potato that are dipped in flour and egg then fried, but I doubt those are the same things to which you refer…

  • http://noshandtell.com Ariel

    very witty- and I agree that everyone has an inner jew. your inner jew makes delicious looking latkes. YUMMM

  • http://www.LAQuillen.com Q.

    I tried to find my inner Jewess once and made Challah. It was a disaster. I blame it on a bad recipe though. I will find my inner Jewess. I WILL!

  • http://www.thedeliciouslife.com Sarah J. Gim

    Ariel: Why thank you! I am now trying to convince my inner Jew to stop drinking Manischewitz. It’s tough. That shit is delicious. If you tell yourself it’s not wine.

    Q: ANY type of bread scares me so INSTEAD, how about we BUY challah bread, but MAKE Eggnog French Toast with it. Wow, that’s not confusing cultures at all, now is it? :D

  • Cathy

    Hi Sarah, first time reader/poster here! While eating my 1/2 poppy seed bagel with nova and cream cheese (after all, it is Sunday morning), I read your latke post. I thoroughly enjoyed your blog (and my bagel)! Your latkes look lovely, but I’d like to share my recipe to tweak them. Latkes are like good chocolate chip cookies – chewy on the inside, but crispy on the outside. NEVER wash the potatoes after grating. You don’t want to wash off the potato starch. That’s the glue that helps bind the latkes and contributes to the creamy inside. This recipe makes about 4 dozen pancakes.
    12 idaho (russet) potatoes
    1 large spanish onion
    3 eggs (I use x-large)
    1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    kosher salt and black pepper to taste
    canola, vegetable or peanut oil for frying

    1. Peel and grate potatoes and onion in food processor.
    2. Put grated mixture in large bowl. Add 3 beaten eggs, flour, and s & p. mix thoroughly.
    3. Drain mixture in colander set over large bowl. Don’t worry about getting all the moisture out. A little will help make those crispy edges when the latkes hit the hot oil.
    4. Heat up a couple of skillets over medium/high heat, add an inch of oil to each. When oil is hot, drop 2-3 tablespoons of the mixture into skillet. I use a fork, not a spoon and eyeball the size. Gently press down on each latke. You don’t want to uniformly flatten them, just enough help cook them through. The beauty is in the irregularity.
    5. I serve with just applesauce. (homemade is best). Enjoy!

  • http://www.thedeliciouslife.com Sarah J. Gim

    Cathy: thank you so much for the tip about not washing the potatoes! I wondered about that, but thought that the potatoes were kept in the water not to wash, but to keep them from turning color. I suppose if you work fast enough, though, you won’t need to worry about that… And thank you SO MUCH for sharing your own recipe!

  • http://uncouthgourmands.com/ Uncouth Gourmands

    Let your inner Jewess shine!

  • Leah Sarah

    Chanukah isn’t a secular holiday. It is a religious holiday as well. I think maybe you are confusing the fact that the story of Chanukah didn’t happen in the actual Tanakh(meaning, it is not in the Torah, the writings of the prophets, or the later writings), but rather a historical miracle that happened to the Jewish people. We celebrate that miracle as a sign that God is with the Jewish people. Nothing secular about that ;)

    It became a ‘secular’ holiday when less religious Jews felt the need to compete with/assimilate to secular/Christian society. The timing was convenient, so it worked out as the “Jewish Christmas”… However, as a religious Jew, I don’t see the worry in wanting to compete with secular society! We have the holidays listed above plus many more! We have shavuot, sukkot, simchat torah, tu b’shevat(which was mentioned in the comments), and probably the most fun in a lot of ways, purim!

    For anyone interested in learning some ‘basics’ about Jewish history, religious practices, and culture, http://www.jewfaq.org is an awesome basic website to get you started!

  • http://www.thedeliciouslife.com Sarah J. Gim

    Uncouth: And you girls should let your Inner K-Hos shine ;)

    Leah Sarah: Thanks so much for the clarification on the secular vs. religious part of Hanukkah, and great link for more info. I need to catch up. I’ve been slacking recently!

  • http://www.comfybelly.com Erica

    Love it – festival of fried foods! I have met several Korean women who have been to more bat/bar mitzvahs than I have, cook jewish food better than I do, and I’m jewish.

    These look fabulous and they’re great reheated too!

  • http://www.thedeliciouslife.com Sarah J. Gim

    Erica: I know so many people who make kimchee, marinate bulgogi and galbee, cook Korean food and know so much more about the culture than I do. And I’m korean (on the outside!). Are we disgraces to our people?!?! :D

    Let’s trade. I do the fried Jewish foods. Oh, and the matzoh ball soup. Damn I love matzoh ball soup – and you do Korean food!

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-27119-Hermosa-Beach-Restaurant-Examiner Bianca

    AH latkes….. reminds me of childhood days in New York… the memories… thank you for taking me back to that time.

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  • mel CH

    Had to come back for the “Inner Jew”

  • Sharon

    I just have to say you’re hillarious and I’m so impressed with your Jewish knowledge!! Love your food and your posts ;)

  • Pingback: Happy Hanukkah – Best Potato Latke Recipe Ever! « Felix Doolittle Sketches

  • Romansoleil

    I was going to do like you , look at a lot of recipes to find a good basic one to start, looks like you did that work, i would like to take the time to TYVM.

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