Photo by Stacey Ballis

Make a lotta latkes, minus the hassle

Stacey Ballis
December 02, 2018

Hanukkah is not really the most exciting of holidays for me. Since it is a celebration for children, which I am not any longer and don't have myself, it will frequently go completely unnoticed. I do love to light the menorah when I remember to buy candles, but have to admit that this is more about the warm decorative glow than anything else. We do not gather the family this time of year, my folks are usually snowbirding in warmer climes, and the rest of us are seasonably busy. Which is fine, none of us need to add one more social engagement to this festive time of year.

Except for the fact that without gathering for Hanukkah, there are no latkes. And this hurts my heart. I love latkes. Potato pancakes fried until crispy and served hot with applesauce and sour cream is in my top 10 of favorite flavor combinations. But for some reason, latkes are a Hanukkah food for me, much like stuffing is a Thanksgiving thing, and so it never occurs to me to make them for any other reason.

This is a bad habit because latkes are amazing and versatile. They can be the base of an appetizer or a side dish. They can happily be served at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Not a bad after-school snack if you are of a mind. And while they can be a bit messy, what with the pan frying spattering oil all over your stove, once you decide to embrace that bit of cleanup, you can make huge batches, freezing the extras and keeping them on hand for refreshing in your oven for a group or your toaster oven for a quick morning treat. So I personally have decided to flip my script on latkes and declare them a year-round treat that everyone should know how to make.

I know many of you are saying that latkes are a pain, all that grating of potatoes, risking the integrity of your knuckles, the squeezing out of excess liquid, trying to get the batter pulled together before the potatoes oxidize to that horrible purplish gray color. I feel you, I see you, and I am here to present you with MAGIC LATKES.

Actually they are just my grandmother Jonnie’s latkes, and Jonnie suffered no fools and was not here for your scraped bloody knuckles or lavender potatoes. Jonnie wanted a lot of latkes easy and fast, and she wanted them creamy in the center and lacy and crispy on the edges and tasting deeply of potato enhanced with onion. By making the batter in your blender or food processor, you are making the batter super-fast, which helps prevent the air contact. No squeezing or draining of liquid, just the addition of a little bit of flour which binds with the liquid and helps the pancakes not be soggy and crisp beautifully. They are so fast to pull together that you can make them fresh for breakfast or brunch in less time than it would take to make homemade hash browns.

These are best hot out of the pan, which makes them a fun dish for a crowd that likes to gather in your kitchen, just take turns at the stove and keep flipping them out. But they are fine if you hold them in a warm oven, or even if you reheat them from frozen. I have made tiny little ones with just a teaspoon of batter for appetizers, or giant ones with a cookie scoop. All you really need to know is that you want them to be a deep brown on both sides, which will take about 2-3 minutes per side.

And if you’re smart, as I am striving to be, you won’t just make them on Hanukkah. Jonnie would approve.

Jonnie’s Magic Latkes

Photo by Stacey Ballis

Serves 8

Ingredients

4 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 beaten eggs
1 teaspoon salt
2-4 tablespoon flour (I use instant flour or Wondra to prevent clumping)
Peanut or canola oil for frying

Directions

Put half of the potatoes into a blender or food processor with half the onions. Pulse just until you hear the last big potato chunk hit the blade, then pour into a bowl. Repeat with other half of potatoes and onions. Mix eggs with salt and add to potato mixture, add enough flour to thicken slightly, every potato has a different moisture level, you want the batter to still be pourable. Heat ¼ inch of oil in large 12-inch skillet (nonstick is great if you have one) until shimmering, and fry by heaping tablespoonfuls until crisp and deep golden brown on both sides. Remove to a rack over a tray and salt lightly. Hold in a single layer on a rack over a sheet tray in a 200°F oven till it is time to serve.

Serve with applesauce and sour cream

These freeze well in a single layer and then pop in a zip-top bag for storage, just re-crisp in a 400°F oven from frozen for about 15-20 minutes or put in your toaster oven on high for 8-10.

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