There are hundreds of recipes in Jewish cookbooks, American cookbooks, and on the Internet. Here’s a simple one that is a sure hit. But of course, best only when enhanced with some secrets from Rabbi Moshe Levin’s great-grandmother Rochel, passed on to her daughter, Ida, and then to his mother Esther.
Tips from Esther Levin: “Making latkes together, especially parents with their children, is a lot of fun. One of the great things about latkes is that they can be made in advance, so cooks and kids can make them together in the afternoon and serve the latkes when family and friends are ready to eat dinner, right after Hanukkah candles are lit. Latkes may be made up to 8 hours ahead. You can even refrigerate them or even freeze them if you made them earlier. But reheat them on a rack set over a baking sheet in a 350°F oven, about 5 minutes. IF they were frozen, first let them get back to room temperature.”
Esther’s cousin Mollie said that grating the potatoes, then soaking them briefly in water, and then squeezing out the liquid (as we’ve done here) keeps the batter from turning brown too quickly. However, remember what Bubbie Rochel said – not to pour out the starch, only the water. And believe it or not, Tante Beila used to add a little sour cream to the potato onion mixture before frying them so they come out golden brown, not burnt looking.
1 lb potatoes Yukon Gold are best because of the high starch content
1/2 cup(s) onion finely chopped
1 large egg lightly beaten (Rochel liked it better with two regular size eggs)
2 Tablespoons Matzoh meal Tante Basya says all-purpose flour works too
1/2 teaspoon salt More will give you high blood pressure!
1/4 teaspoon pepper optional
Makes 10 good size latkes. (Adding a little flour will make it into a 12-16 portion batch if you want.) Double this recipe for a hungry crowd! And make sure you have enough sour cream and applesauce at the table for everyone, because they will pile it high on the dinner plate!
Preheat your oven to 250°F.
Peel the potatoes and coarsely grate by hand (Rochel didn’t have a Cuisineart), transferring the mixture to a large bowl of cold water. Soak the grated potatoes 1 to 2 minutes after the last batch is added to the water, and then drain well in a colander. Bubbie Rochel said, “Do NOT pour out the starch in the bottom of the bowl – only the water! Then use your hands to scoop out the starch and add it back into the mix.”
Spread the grated potatoes and onion on a kitchen towel and roll up jelly-roll style. Twist towel tightly to wring out as much liquid as possible. Only then should you transfer the potato mixture to a bowl and stir in the egg(s) and salt (and pepper if you wish).
Heat 1/4 cup oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet pan over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Uncle Yankel has a heart condition so Tante Beila coated the pan with cooking spray instead of oil, and of course she cut down on the salt. Make batches of 4 latkes, by spooning 2 tablespoons of the potato mixture per latke into the skillet, flattening them into 3-inch round shapes with a fork. (Rochel said, “Don’t press hard! Thin latkes are too crisp so they don’t come out so good.) Reduce the heat from high to moderate and cook until the undersides are browned, about 5 minutes. Turn the latkes over and cook them until the new undersides are browned, about 4-5 minutes more.
As each batch is done, place them on paper towels to drain and season with a tiny bit more salt (unless someone in your family has high blood pressure, as Zeideh Zalman did). Add a little more oil to the skillet as needed each time you make a new batch. Keep the latkes warm on a wire rack set in a shallow baking pan in your oven until all are ready to be served.