Whatever your religion, holiday meals promise good eating for all. Next week marks the beginning of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday also known as the Festival of Lights, which remembers the rededication of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE. The story of Hanukkah tells of an oil candle that was lit in the Temple, and while the oil was supposed to last for only one day, it inexplicably burned for eight days and nights.
To commemorate the miracle of the oil, Jews all over the world eat foods fried in oil on Hanukkah, including the classic potato pancakes, called latkes, and jelly-filled doughnuts, called sufganiyot. And whether you're celebrating Hanukkah or not, crispy potato pancakes are a welcome side at any holiday meal.
Tips for perfect potato pancakes:
Use the grating blade on your food processor for grating the potatoes. While many home cooks swear by hand-grating the potatoes, using a food processor will save you time and make kitchen cleanup a breeze.
Soak the potatoes. After grating the potatoes, soak them in cold water for five minutes to release some of the starch. This will help your latkes stay crisp and prevent them from getting gummy. However, you will need to add starch of some kind (like flour or potato starch) back into the pancake mixture so it holds together. Instead of adding flour or potato starch from a box, you can squeeze the grated potatoes over a bowl, getting as much liquid out as possible, then let the liquid sit in the bowl for about 10 minutes so the starch settles to the bottom. Then pour off the brownish liquid from the potatoes, and remaining in the bottom of the bowl will be a couple of tablespoons of the natural starch from the potatoes, which you can then mix into the latke batter instead of adding flour or another starch to bind them.
Use a mild oil. Potato pancakes should taste like, well, potatoes — not oil. Using a mild-flavored oil, such as canola, will allow for the flavor of the potatoes to shine. Plus, canola oil can reach a very high temperature, which helps the pancakes develop that delicious crispy exterior.
Get the oil hot. No matter the type of oil you're using, it's important that the oil be heated before adding the pancake batter so that the latkes don't stick to the pan. Just be sure to be very careful when flipping the pancakes, as hot oil has a tendency to fly, and can burn the skin.
Cook in batches. Latkes are best served piping hot and crisp, so make sure not to crowd the pancakes in the skillet and cook in batches to keep the pancakes from getting cold or soggy.
Get creative! While potatoes are the traditional base for latkes, feel free to add other vegetables — such as sweet potatoes or yams, carrots, or zucchini — for a dash of color and flavor. Applesauce and sour cream are the traditional condiments for latkes, but other toppings — such as cranberry relish, tomato jam, pesto or even caviar — make fun and festive toppings.
Classic Potato Latkes by Faye Levy. These are the classic potato pancakes everyone will be craving. The best part is that they can be made ahead of time so you can enjoy the party.
Potato Latkes by Judy Bart Kancigor. So lacy and crunchy they're almost see-through, these latkes are all about the crisp texture.
Paul's Potato Latkes by David Waltuck. These latkes include shredded carrot, which adds great color and a touch of natural sweetness. David's latke tip: "The more water you're able to squeeze from the shredded ingredients, the crispier the latkes will be."
Honey-Ginger Carrot and Parsnip Latkes With Crème Fraiche by Anne Bramley. Instead of potatoes, these latkes feature carrots and parsnips, are seasoned with ginger and honey, and are topped with a dollop of crème fraiche.
Vegetable Latkes by Sharon Lebewohl. If you're really looking to add flair to the table this holiday, look no further than these brightly colored latkes, which include broccoli, spinach, carrot, zucchini and scallions.
And for dessert:
Israeli Doughnuts by Faye Levy. A classic in Israel at Hanukkah, these light yeast doughnuts are delicious served with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.
Orange Sour Cream Doughnuts by Sheila Lukins. These doughnuts are made without yeast, yielding a perfectly cakey bite.