Here’s a secret I wish more people knew: latkes are the perfect holiday food.
For those of you not in the know, latkes are the food most commonly associated in this country with the Jewish holiday of Hannukah. Also known as potato pancakes, they are similar in some ways to hash brown potato patties — but tell that to a Jewish family whose grandmother has been making them for half a century, and they will scowl at you. Where hash brown patties are contained, with neat edges and a definable shape, latkes are chaos: vaguely round, perhaps oval, with shredded potatoes crisply sticking out from every edge and caramelized bits of onion stuck to the bottom, depending on the recipe.
The basic recipe for latkes includes varying proportions of shredded potatoes, onion, egg, matzo meal or flour, and salt. The resulting batter is dropped by spoonful into piping hot oil and fried. As a symbol of the miracle of one flask of oil lasting for eight nights in an ancient Jewish temple, the latkes are meaningful. As a food, they’re utterly delicious.
For me, though, another miracle of latkes is that their basic recipe is as versatile as the rituals of the holiday season. If you have family or friends visiting who follow any number of restrictive diets, simple tweaks to the latke recipe make it the perfect food for almost any need.
Even the most basic latke recipe only includes a little bit of flour or matzo meal. Used as a way to bind egg to potato, the flour’s main purpose is to provide starch. Gluten-free options here work just as well! If you don’t use gluten-free flours very often in your home, you can buy the cheapest of these:
The only non-vegan ingredient in latkes is egg. The combination of flour and egg is what really holds traditional latkes together, and leaving it out entirely will make your latkes fall apart the minute they hit the oil in your pan. To replace the egg with a non-animal-protein binding agent, you can try any of the following options:
- Ener-G Egg Replacer: This is a powdered product you can buy at many mainstream grocery stores if they have a “natural foods” or “vegan section,” or at most Whole Foods stores. The box includes instructions on how to mix the powder with the right volume of water to make a gel-like substance that stands in for eggs in your recipe.
- Oats: Combining these with water and letting them sit while you prepare other ingredients creates a thick paste that also works well to hold the latkes together. VegKitchen has a great recipe for latkes using oats.
- Flax Meal: Combining one tablespoon of ground flax powder (sometimes called “flax meal”) with three tablespoons of water makes up the equivalent of one egg.
People following a paleo diet, or people who are avoiding nightshades (a class of plants that includes potatoes and peppers, among others), don’t have to skip the latkes if you make them with sweet potatoes! Sweet potatoes and other shreddable root vegetables make delicious latkes, and there are several great recipes out there:
- Wholesome Sweet Potato Latkes by Paleo Grubs
- Sweet Potato Lakes by Primal Palate
- Carrot-Scallion Latkes by Elana’s Pantry
- Parsnip Latkes by fastPaleo
I’m including this because, although taking most of the oil out of the recipe undoes much of the symbolism of this greasy treat, there are people whose health depends on a lighter latke. EatingWell offers this recipe that allows for 4 grams of fat per serving.
Dairy Free, Nut-Free, and Soy-Free
Great news: Latkes are already naturally dairy, nut, and soy free (assuming you fry them in vegetable or olive oil)!
How to Top Lakes
You can use a variety of toppings for latkes. The most traditional toppings are either applesauce or sour cream, but my husband’s Lithuanian side of the family sprinkles them with cinnamon sugar. Other unique options:
- Smoked Salmon and capers
- Cream cheese and chopped olives
- Spiced pumpkin butter
- Strawberry jam
This year, my family will be eating two types of latkes. The first will be the biggest secret of all: Manischewitz Potato Pancake mix. The laziest option of all, this mix is actually absolutely delicious. I wish I’d known how tasty it was years ago, when making latkes more than one night in a row left me overwhelmed and missing some knuckle-skin from all the hand-shredding of potatoes. All you need for this one is eggs, oil, and the mix.
The second latke recipe we’re trying this year is Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Samosa-Spiced Latkes with Pear Chutney. This Indian-inspired recipe is a time-consuming one, but the scent of the chutney alone is making it all worthwhile. It’s vegan — accidentally — and full of all the vegetables you’d usually find in a samosa.
However you make them — paleo, gluten-free, vegan, or traditional — latkes get along with everyone. Happy Frying!
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, hosted by Kristi of FindingNinee.com . This week’s sentence is “I wish…”