Lighting up the Holidays with Latkes

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I celebrate Christmas, but I am also a cook who celebrates food spawning from all nations, cultures, and religions. As part of my own Christmas tradition, I celebrate the joys of the holiday season in many forms, but especially so in the form of sugar and butter within my cookies and coffee cakes. During Hanukkah, the bright lights of the menorah signify the oil that burned for eight straight days when it was previously thought there was only enough oil for a day. This became the miracle that is celebrated during Hanukkah. 

Every year for Christmas, I craft Rosemary Shortbread cookies (chalk full of sugar, but mainly butter). For those who celebrate Kwanzaa (which is ongoing now), sweet potato and coconut pies are revered dishes. Latkes are a staple dish during Hanukkah, as they signify the miracle of the pitcher of oil.

As the story goes, when the Maccabees reached the steps of the Temple after their victory, they found a pitcher of oil with only enough oil thought to last a single day. Instead, the miracle oil burned for eight days, giving significance to both the duration of Hanukah and the reason for which latkes are cooked in oil. Here’s to long-burning oil — and latkes.

Having never attempted latkes previously, I really felt like this was the year to do it. And despite my egregious egg omittance, I think I pulled this one off. The taste was everything I expected: a rich, fried exterior coupled with the sweetness of cooked onion and the grounding starch of potatoes. The texture and crispiness of the latkes would have been more authentic with the egg mixed in, but these still came out well. Some latke recipes encompass breadcrumbs — like this one — while others do not. The choice is yours. I had applesauce, cucumbers, and sour cream on hand as my accompaniments, but feel free to grab some boiled eggs to throw into the mix, too.

May you all have a Merry (and Happy) Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Three Kings Day, St. Lucia Day, Ramadan, or [insert celebrated holiday here]. I hope this holiday season is filled with loving family, friends, and copious amounts of sugar, butter, and oil. After all, we honor our past with the food of the present.

Latkes
Recipe adapted from the December 2015 issue of Bon Appétit
Yields 24 small or 16 large latkes

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¼ cup fine plain dried breadcrumbs
1 tbsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. baking powder
⅛ tsp. finely ground black pepper 
3 lb. russet potatoes (3), peeled
1 lb. white onions (3 medium)
1 egg
4 tbsp. (or more) vegetable oil

Place a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet; line with 2 layers of paper towels. Combine breadcrumbs, salt, baking powder, and pepper in a small bowl.

Using the large holes of a box grater or a food processor, grate potatoes and onions. Transfer to a large kitchen towel. Gather ends of a towel in each hand and twist over sink, wringing out as much liquid as possible. Open towel; toss mixture to loosen. Wring out again (excess moisture will lead to soggy latkes).

Transfer potato mixture to a large bowl; add breadcrumb mixture and egg. Toss with your hands to thoroughly combine.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Heat 4 tbsp.oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Drop a small amount of latke mixture into skillet. If the fat sizzles around the edges, it’s ready (do not let it smoke). Working in 5 batches and adding more oil to skillet as needed to maintain about ⅛” fat, drop small spoonfuls of mixture into pan, pressing gently with the back of the spoon or a spatula to flatten slightly. Cook latkes, occasionally rotating pan, until golden brown and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. (You may occasionally need to pick out stray potato bits from oil if they start to burn.)

Transfer latkes to prepared rack and let drain. Remove paper towels and bake latkes in oven until all are warmed through and recrisped, about 5 minutes.

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