10 Creative Takes On Latkes For Hanukkah
We never get tired of potatoes, but if you don't want to spend eight days downing spuds, we have a some latke recipes that do a sharp pivot from the traditional Hanukkah recipe.
Jelly doughnuts and potato pancakes — Hanukkah is a time of year dedicated to filling up on fried food — a tradition we gleefully follow. Right now, we're zeroing in on latkes as Hanukkah gets closer but since we have eight days to celebrate, we thought we'd mix up the traditional pancakes this year.
Potato latkes are the most commonly made for the holiday — they're basically extra-rich hashbrowns: grated potatoes mixed with egg, flour, and onions and then pan-fried like a pancake. But they don't have to be potatoes — they just have to be fried because it's the oil that's the focus of the tradition, not what's being fried — opening up a whole world of latkes to try.
Why Fried Food?
If you're new to Hanukkah celebrations, you might be wondering: Why the fried food? Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights which commemorates the rededication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees after the Syrian army vandalized it. According to Jewish history, when they went to light the menorah, there was only enough oil to keep it lit for one day, but — miraculously — it stayed lit for eight days. That's why Hanukkah lasts eight days; the fried food symbolizes the miraculous oil.
Just about any fried food honors the tradition, but jelly donuts (sufganiyot) and potato pancakes (potato latkes) are the must-make treasures for the table on Hanukkah. For a little inspiration, we pulled some of our favorite variations on latke recipes with to get you started for eight days of delight.
Hannukah coincides with persimmon season — and in our universe, it's not just a coincidence of convenience, it's one of splendor. Persimmons are harvested from October to February in the United States. Slightly firmer than apples, they are a sweet stand-in for the typical tuber for this holiday favorite, though there is some fried potato in this recipe to maintain the structure of the pancake. It's lightly spiced with cumin and nutmeg to make it a savory side to your brisket.
Kale brings a bit of color and nutrients to an otherwise monochromatic griddlecake, but it doesn't let go of potatoes altogether. You still have to pull out your box grater for these crispy latkes. As with most kale recipes, you have to get your hands a bit dirty and massage the leaves with olive oil before adding them to the potato mixture. Once you shape the cakes, you fry them over high heat until you have golden brown hashbrowns with healthy green flecks of vitamin A.
Cheese has its own historical connection to the holiday. Though it didn't happen at the same time, the story of Judith is celebrated during Hanukkah as well. She is the one who took down a Greek general using salty cheese and wine, securing a seat at the Hanukkah table for cheese. Cheese pancakes are Italian in origin and converted to Hanukkah latkes by way of the oil. These latkes don't have any potatoes in them and they take on the shape that comes to mind when you hear "pancakes." As an added bonus they're good for breakfast or dinner.
If you like the classic potato latkes as is but want hashbrowns with a little more flavor, the sweet potato is the tuber for the job. This recipe follows the same method as the traditional latkes with the addition of nutmeg and a little bit of matzo meal to bring the ingredients all together. It makes an excellent side dish to honor the miracle of the oil while keeping things interesting.
Though you might assume potato latkes are gluten-free, most latke recipes call for a little flour as a binder. But those who are sensitive to gluten can freely and blissfully eat these butternut squash latkes — these latkes rely on oat flour to get some of the structure. But in case the gluten-free designation scares people who can eat wheat flour, the selling point is that butternut squash is lower in calories and carbs than potatoes. Additionally, butternut squash is at its peak in October, November, and December but the season tapers off starting in January, so Hanukkah is a good time for a seasonal swan song for the winter squash.
At this time of year, strolling through the farmers' markets you may see an uptick in knobby root vegetables called "sunchokes" or "Jerusalem artichokes" — but they're not from Jerusalem and they're nothing like (nor related to) artichokes. They're related to sunflowers and are starchy like other root veggies. They have a nutty flavor with a slight sweetness that works well with latkes if you're looking to try something new with your farmers' market find.
Parsnips make for very lively latkes. They're similar in shape and shelf life to carrots — so if you have a bunch on hand and you're looking for ways to use them, latkes are a good option. They're a little less sweet than carrots with a nuttiness to them and subtle cinnamon notes. This particular recipe really plays with flavors — the addition of dill adds an herbal brightness while the sour cream horseradish sauce adds a creamy kick that root vegetables sometimes need to wake them up.
We promise you this is recipe is not meant to taunt our Greek friends, it just gently weaves the ingredients of one of Greece's finest foods (spanikopita or spinach pie) with a superlative Jewish holiday food used to celebrate the Greek defeat in Judith's story. In the recipe, the spinach adds a freshness to the grated potatoes while feta cheese gives it that saltiness we crave from Greek food.
Rooting For Rutabaga
From the Hanukkah recipes so far, you've probably picked up that root vegetables make great pancakes — so we thought we'd toss rutabagas in the mix. They're a bit more flavorful than potatoes, so you can expect these cakes to be anything but bland. Rutabagas have a slightly sharp flavor, though not quite as intense turnips.
These latkes distill the symbols of both the Maccabees and Judith in one special (spicy) dish. While the cheddar and potatoes complement each other, the aromatics and spices elevate the cakes. To take it all a step further, they're garnished with cool Greek yogurt that tempers the spices and contrasts with the hot latkes.