Chanukah began yesterday, Tuesday, evening, the annual Jewish commemoration of the rededication of the Jewish Holy Temple in Jerusalem when, by a miracle, one day’s oil supply lasted eight days. It is a time of thanksgiving, and some of the festive foods associated with the holiday include fare fried in oil, famously potato pancakes call latkes.
This week inspired by a conversation with my former husband Jamie, I tried making latkes from sweet potatoes. Jamie and his partner Gail will celebrate Chanukah with a latke party for their Ecovillage neighbors in Belfast. Latkes are great party food because you can make them from lots of different vegetables, serve them as a first course, as a side dish, as a main dish, and if you make them small enough, as an hors d’oeuvre. Gail plans to get an early start the day of the party, making latkes to rewarm later in a hot oven, otherwise, she observed, she’d never get out of the kitchen to enjoy the gathering. Gail says that they actually freeze well, too.
I love latkes, especially the classic all potato ones, and as time has gone by, I’ve see recipes for latkes made from all kinds of root and sturdy vegetables which can be grated, mixed with a little flour, or for the traditionalists, matzo meal, and some eggs; seasoned, Gail advises, with plenty of onions, or for a more recent variation, chopped jalapenos. Beet latkes are wonderful, and so are latkes made from winter squashes and/or carrots; sweet potato and beets are a great combination in latkes. Combining any of these with grated Irish potato gives the latkes that proper fried potato crunch, said Gail.
The main thing is to use enough eggs and flour to make the grated vegetables sticky enough to meld together as they soften and cook on an oily pan. Usually, I don’t like to deep fry at home—too messy and my glasses get fogged up with airborne grease. Latkes need a generous amount of oil, Gail said, a “cringeworthy amount,” but not enough to submerge them. This makes them a good compromise for me in the fried food department.
If you make classic potato latkes, grate them, then squeeze out the excess moisture. I put my sweet potato through the grater attachment on my food processor, but you could burn a few pre-prandial calories by hand-grating on a box grater. Watch your knuckles.) There was no excess moisture in them.
I found that the sweet potato crisped beautifully, creating a delicious nearly candied exterior. We ended up with eight, three- to four-inch latkes, so the recipe would have served four to eight if the latkes were a side dish but I treated them like a main dish. Gail said that applesauce is a traditional topping although she grew up with sour cream as the usual. I used sour cream seasoned with grated horseradish. It was delicious.
- 1 pound sweet potatoes (or Irish, if you prefer)
- 2 large eggs
- ¼ to ⅓ cup flour or matzo meal
- 1 onion finely chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Vegetable oil
- Grate the sweet potato and put the shreds into a bowl.
- Beat the eggs and add them and the flour, onions, and salt and pepper to the shredded potato.
- Mix very well together.
- Heat a half inch or so of oil in a deep fry pan until it shimmers or a few shreds of the sweet potato dropped in sizzle vigorously.
- Put spoons full of the latke mixture on the pan and flatten slightly.
- Cook until one side has a deep golden color, then turn over and cook the other side until it, too, is golden; time will vary somewhat depending on how finely you have shredded the vegetable.
- Drain and keep hot until you are ready to serve.