Pascale's Kitchen: Luscious Latkes

Secrets and techniques for preparing great latkes.

Latkes come in many flavors (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Latkes come in many flavors
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Though we’re waving farewell to Hanukkah, fried, crispy latkes hailing from European and North African Jewish cuisines can be a year-round treat.
These traditional foods are based on recipes handed down from one generation to the next. Not overly complicated, they are particularly beloved by children. You don’t need any special ingredients, though you do need to add the right amounts of each ingredient.
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In recent years, latkes including a variety of vegetables have become more popular, rather than relying on traditional recipes that call for potatoes, eggs and flour.
The first recipe is for latkes that bring European recipes together with potatoes and added herbs, commonly found in North African cuisine. This North African version of latkes is called ooja. When you combine all these ingredients and fry them in hot oil, you end up with extremely crispy, tasty latkes.
The second recipe is for light green zucchini and carrot latkes, which have a different texture and coloring from traditional potato latkes.
The third recipe is for corn latkes, a children’s favorite that is super easy to whip up. Of course, you can always add some cheese and herbs to enhance the dish.
All the recipes below involve frying, but latkes can certainly be baked in the oven instead. All you have to do is line a tray with baking paper, spray it with oil and arrange the patties with a little space between each one. Alternatively, you can bake the patties in a muffin pan. Cook them for 20 minutes in an oven preheated to 180°C or until they turn golden brown. Serve hot.
Secrets and techniques for preparing great latkes
Choose the most appropriate potatoes for making latkes, such as red, Rodeo or Rosana potatoes. Some latkes are made by first cooking and then mashing the potatoes, then adding the other ingredients and frying the patties. The other way is to grate the potatoes and fry them without pre-cooking them. Both methods are great – they just have a very different texture (the latter type will be crispier).
If you plan on grating the potatoes and you’re not in a hurry, it’s best to let the liquid drain off and then use the starch that forms at the bottom of the liquid that has drained off.
Another option is to swap the potatoes with other types of vegetables, such as carrots or sweet potatoes. You can also add cheese or tofu to the patties, or sweeten the mixture with a little sugar.
Alternatively, you can grate the potatoes with a much finer grater, which will change the texture of the latkes. Or you can alter the flavor a little by adding onion, cheese, tofu, herbs or spices.
If you feel that the vegetable mixture is too watery, you can add a little flour, breadcrumbs or matzah meal to thicken it a bit. This is especially helpful when you make patties with cooked sweet potato or leeks. Corn patties are always a big hit with the kids.
If you have a sweet tooth, you can add some sugar or sprinkle powdered sugar on top just before serving. Some families serve their latkes with applesauce or sour cream. You can also use self-rising flour in place of regular flour.
West meets East latkes (Photo: Pascale Perez-Rubin)West meets East latkes (Photo: Pascale Perez-Rubin)
Latkes are commonly found in European Jewish cuisine for Hanukkah. In Polish Jewish cuisine, latkes are usually made with a little sugar, or in combination with sweetened applesauce. In Russian and Lithuanian Jewish cuisine, they are made a little spicier with onion and black pepper.
Tripolitan, Tunisian and Algerian Jews prepare ooja, which are especially tasty when eaten straight from the frying pan. They are nice in rolls that are traditionally prepared for Shabbat meals, with spicy herb and vegetable spreads, and are perfect for eating on Hanukkah.
Makes 20-25 patties.
1 kg. potatoes, peeled
4 eggs
3 Tbsp. flour, sifted
1 slice of bread, soaked in water and then squeezed out well
½-¾ cup chopped herbs: parsley, mint or cilantro
1 tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. spicy paprika or 1 tsp. pilpelchuma or harissa
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. black pepper
Oil for frying
Paper towels
Grate the potatoes coarsely. Drain with a colander, transfer to a bowl and let sit for 15 minutes. Drain the remaining liquid, but keep the starch that has formed in the bottom of the bowl.
Add the eggs, flour, squeezed slice of bread, herbs, cumin, paprika, salt, sugar and black pepper. Mix well.
Heat the oil in a large pot. Take a spoonful of the mixture and place it on the frying pan. Flatten gently using the back of a spoon and form a circular patty. Fill the pan with more patties. Fry the latkes until they turn golden brown and then flip them and fry the other side. Remove them from the pan and place on a mesh screen or colander so the oil can drip down. Transfer to paper towels. Serve hot. Alternatively, you can bake the latkes.
Level of difficulty: Medium.
Time: 1 hour.
Status: Pareve.
Light green zucchini and carrot latkes (Photo: Pascale Perez-Rubin)Light green zucchini and carrot latkes (Photo: Pascale Perez-Rubin)
Makes 12-14 patties.
2 medium light green zucchinis
2 medium carrots
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 egg
2 Tbsp. wheat flour or rice flour
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ tsp. ground caraway
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. spicy paprika
Oil for frying
Paper towels
Peel the zucchinis and carrots. Grate them coarsely into a large bowl. Add the garlic, egg and flour. Mix well. Add the spices and mix again. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Take a bit of mixture with your hand and form patties that each have a diameter of 3-4 cm. Place them in the hot oil and fry on both sides until they turn golden brown. Remove the patties and place on a mesh screen or colander so the oil can drip down. Transfer to paper towels. Serve hot.
Level of difficulty: Medium.
Time: 1 hour.
Status: Pareve.
Corn latkes (Photo: Pascale Perez-Rubin)Corn latkes (Photo: Pascale Perez-Rubin)
Kids absolutely love corn latkes! You can also add an egg and cheese and bake them in a muffin pan instead of frying them.
Makes 20 latkes.
3 cups fresh corn kernels that were cooked for a few minutes, or frozen corn that was defrosted. If you’re using a can of corn, best to use unsweetened, drained
2 eggs
½ cup breadcrumbs, self-rising flour or matzah meal
Salt and pepper, to taste
Oil for frying
Add the corn to a medium bowl. Add the eggs and breadcrumbs, flour or matzah meal. Mix, then add the salt and pepper. You can add one or two tablespoons of milk or an extra egg, if you so desire.
Prepare patties with a diameter of 5-6 cm. Heat the oil for shallow frying (oil should be about 2-cm. high in the pan). Fry the corn patties for 2-3 minutes on each side, until they turn golden brown. Remove and place on paper towels. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Alternatively, you can add 1 cup of grated yellow or mozzarella cheese and a little chopped dill or parsley.
Level of difficulty: Medium.
Time: 30 minutes.
Status: Pareve or dairy.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.