Festival of Lights

Tonight is the second night of Chanukah.  Chanukah is known as the Festival of Oil Lights.  Basically, the Jews took the temple but only had enough oil to last one night.  So they lit the lamps and- a great miracle happened- they stayed lit for eight nights.  As a result, to celebrate, you’re supposed to eat foods made with lots of oil.  (My people are not low-cal.)  Chanukah often falls around Christmastime so it’s often mistaken for a gift-laden, big deal holiday but, in fact, it’s not.  In our family we give little gifts each night but nothing like the Christmases my husband grew up with.

At any rate, we had lots of yummy food tonight, lots of which was made in oil.  A horrifying amount of oil.  So much oil that I dare not report all the recipes in one post, for fear that there will be a cooking oil shortage if you try to make them all at once.  So tonight, I’ll give you the traditional Chanukah food, latkes. 

All families have their own idea of what makes a good latke.  Some grind up the potatos so that the resulting pancake is sort of fluffy inside with a nice coating.  Others grate the potatos so that the edges get really crispy. Some drain the grated potatos first, some don’t.  Some add baking powder, some don’t.   Some eat lateks with sour cream, others with applesauce.  (And if you think this is bad, wait until Passover and the great Matzo ball debate!)

I prefer my latkes with both sour cream and applesauce, made from grated, drained potatos with a little bit of baking powder to help them rise.  I’ll give some measurements here, with lots of photos, but really the basic idea is to combine the potatos and onions with a bit of a binder (flour & egg) so that they’ll hold together as they fry.  You can substitute almost any vegetable with this and end up with a yummy pancake.  I’ve used sweet potatos, zucchini, carrots and a combo of those- all delicious.



4 russet potatos

1 sweet onion

1/2-3/4 cup flour

1 Tablespoon baking soda

3 eggs

salt and pepper to taste


Peel the potatos and the onion.  In a food processor, use the grater attachment

and grate the potatos and onion.   You could also do this by hand but it will take longer.  I’m far too impatient for that.

Place them in a colander over a bowl and let them drain.  I help this along by putting a lid on top and then some cans to weigh it down. 

The potatos will turn a bit redish brown so if you want to prevent this, toss the potatos with a little bit of lemon juice (I don’t bother but you could) before you drain them.  I left mine for about 20 minutes.  (Side note, if you’re making this with another veggie like zucchini, you can skip this step and just use more flour.  Actually, you can skip this step with the potatos, too, but that’s not how my family does it!). You’ll end up with lots of liquid and starch on the bottom of the bowl. 

In a large bowl, toss the potato/onions with the eggs, flour, baking soda, salt and pepper. 

You won’t really end up with a batter but something more like coated potato shreds.  As it sits, more of the liquid will leak out so you can either mix in more flour or just use the potatos and discard the liquid. 

Heat a horrifying amount of canola oil in a frying pan and when it’s hot (the oil will be shimmery) sort of glop some of the mixture into the pan.  Flatten it a bit and then stand around worrying about how much oil you’re using while you watch it crisp up. 

Flip and cook the other side. 

It’s best to really only flip once but I don’t have that kind of patience.  I always end up flipping several times.  Note: you can keep these warm on a sheet pan in the oven while you make the rest.  Serve with applesauce or sour cream.  The latkes are on the right-hand side of that platter.  On the left are squash risotto cakes but since I made those with oil, they’ll have to wait for another night…


6 thoughts on “Festival of Lights

    • Holly, here’s an open invite- you are always welcome to any holiday celebration we do (we also do birthday dinners wherein the birthday king/queen gets to pick the menu. should you find yourself in our ‘hood around your bday, feel free to put in an order). The next biggie will be in March/April for Passover- not sure when it is this year.

  1. Latkes are on the short list of recipes I’ll probably never blog because I never make them the same way twice. Are yours always the same or did you just write down what you did this time?

    I’ll also admit that I’m a hard-core hand grater and a potato starch reserver.

    I haven’t gotten around to making latkes yet this year (for many reasons) so I think we’re postponing our Hanukah celebrations until R’s dad comes up next weekend. I know he’ll appreciate the latkes anyway.

  2. Mrs. N., No never the same way twice. This was how I made them this time around but I think it’s one of those things that, once you know the basic idea, you can fool around with depending on what you have on hand and how involved you want to be. I admire you for handgrating!!!

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