In the roll call of signature Jewish holiday foods, what could possibly be tastier than a latke? Not brisket, chopped liver or gefilte fish beats this legendary pancake for simplicity and universal appeal. Grated potatoes mixed with onions, eggs, salt and pepper, fried and served crispy is a classic. I go for the traditional recipe using russet potatoes topped with applesauce or sour cream.
But classic isn't good enough anymore. The varieties of latke in today's food scene are as numerous as the people who eat them, with variations inspired by the Jewish Diaspora (traditional Sephardic influences) and more recently, the emergence of the Brooklyn food culture, which blends traditional with contemporary interpretations. The recipes below represent the creative work of a new generation of latke makers.
Here is some food for thought to take into the kitchen:
My Own Traditional Potato Latke (From my cookbook, "Sylvia's Table") For the Latkes:
1 medium onion chopped
4 Russet potatoes, peeled and shredded by hand or food processor
3 Tbsp flour or potato starch
Salt and Pepper
For the toppings:
Applesauce (store bought or homemade) or Sour Cream
Saut&eacut; the onion in about 2 Tbsp of olive oil till soft but not browned. Set aside to cool.
Mix the grated potatoes, onions, flour and eggs together in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then turn them into a colander set over a large bowl. Drape a damp dishcloth over the colander. When it seems that very little liquid is draining off the potatoes, after about 15 minutes, carefully pour off the water leaving the starch that has collected at the bottom of the bowl. Mix the starch back into the potatoes – this will help hold the latkes together as they cook.
Place a large skillet over a medium heat and pour in equal amounts of olive and canola oil to a depth of about 1 inch. The oil is hot enough when a tiny bit of the latke mixture sizzles when you drop it in.
I make small latkes, 3-4 inches across, scooping up a large tablespoon of batter into my palm and flattening it out before sliding it into the pan. The edges of the latke are very ragged and make me think of multi-clawed crabs! It takes only a few minutes for the latkes to brown. Then I gently flip them. As they come out of the pan, I move them onto a cookie sheet lined with paper towels.
Guideline for yield: One potato will make about 2-3 latkes. One person will eat 3 latkes, depending on the size.
Celery Root & Potatoes with Red Onion, Parsley and Black Olive Relish For the Latkes:
2 cups peeled and shredded potatoes
1 cup peeled and shredded celery root
4 eggs, beaten
3 Tbsp grated onion
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 pinch nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup canola oil for frying
Place the potatoes and celery root in a cheesecloth and wring out all the moisture.
Stir together remaining ingredients, and set aside until ready to form latkes.
To assemble the latke:
Over medium heat, fry patties of this mixture until golden brown, flipping as needed. Drain well on a paper towel and top with a dollop of relish and a devilled egg.
For the topping:
Red onion, parsley and black olive relish
1 cup medium diced red onion, roasted in olive oil
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
3 Tbsp pitted black olives rough chopped
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Indian Spiced Latke with Cauliflower Chutney and Crushed Cashew Nuts For the Latke:
2 pounds of Idaho potatoes
1 large egg
2 Tbsl all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground fennel seed
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp black pepper
Peel potatoes and grate them. Squeeze out the excess water from the potatoes.
Add egg and mix. Add flour followed by spice. Pan fry.
For the Cauliflower Chutney:
1 head of medium size cauliflower, cut in small pieces
1 large onion, small diced
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 Tbsp fresh garlic, minced
3 plum tomatoes, diced
fresh curry leaves
2 Tbsp madras curry powder
2 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
1 cup coconut cream
3 Tbsp blend oil
3 Tbsp cashew nuts, crushed and toasted
Heat up the oil medium high. Add the curry leaves and allow them to toast. Add garlic and ginger and toast for 1 minute. And add onion, followed by curry powder.
Toast for a couple minutes. When you smell curry, add tomatoes, salt, and peppers.
Cook for a couple more minutes until tomatoes get soft. Then add coconut milk and cook while the tomatoes are melting. Add cauliflower and mix well. Cook for about 10 minutes until cauliflower is well cooked. Add cilantro and garnish with cashew nuts.
(From the BAMcafe at Brooklyn Academy of Music)
Carrot Latke For the Latke:
4 cups coarsely grated peeled carrots
2 cups coarsely grated peeled potato
6 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 Tbsp snipped chives
3 large eggs, beaten to blend
1 cup sour cream
1 cup homemade applesauce
Place carrots and potatoes in large bowl; press with paper towels to absorb any moisture. In another large bowl, whisk flour, salt, baking powder, and pepper to blend. Mix in carrots, chives and ginger, then eggs.
Pour enough oil into heavy large skillet to cover bottom and heat over medium heat. Working in batches and adding more oil as needed, drop carrot mixture by 1/4 cup into skillet and spread to 3 1/2-inch rounds. Fry until golden, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer latkes to rimmed baking sheet.
Top with a dollop of applesauce and sour cream.
Potato Latke with Red Lentils, Grilled Hudson Valley Carrots and Baby Turnips, Cardamom Curry Scented Yogurt
For the Latke: 1 1/2 cup peeled and shredded potatoes 1 Tbsp grated yellow onion 2 eggs, beaten 1 1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour 1 tsp salt 1/2 cup vegetable oil For the topping: 2 each baby turnips, quartered 2 each thumbelina carrots, sliced lengthwise into 4 pieces 2 each baby golden beets, sliced lengthwise into 4 pieces 1 cup olive oil -- 1 cup red lentils 2 cups water 1 plum tomato, seeded and diced 1 tsp grated ginger, sautéed 1 tsp minced garlic, sautéed 1 Tbsp chopped cilantro 2 Tbsp olive oil -- 1/2 cup yogurt 1 Tbsp roasted garlic 1 small pinch cardamom 1 small pinch curry powder 1. Gently squeeze the liquid from the shredded potatoes using your hands. 2. Combine with onion, eggs, flour, salt and oil in a mixing bowl. 3. In a saut&eacut; pan, heat oil on medium-high heat. 4. Form mixture into latke patties and fry in saut&eacut; pan. 5. Cook until golden brown on each side and place on a paper towel 6. Grill or roast root vegetables in 325 degrees F until tender and browned. 7. Simmer lentils with tomato, saut&eacut;ed ginger and garlic, cilantro and oil on low for 15 minutes or until tender. 8. Combine yogurt, garlic, cardamom and curry powder, refrigerate until ready to serve. 9. On top of each latke, place 1 Tbsp of the lentil mixture, spreading it evenly across the latke. Add 1 or 2 pieces of the root vegetables, and top with the yogurt. (From the Mae Mae Caf&eacut; in Hudson Square) Enjoy! Liz Neumark is the CEO of Great Performances catering and the author of the cookbook "Sylvia's Table."