Nana’s latkes, served with applesauce and sour cream (photo courtesy Melissa’s). A more elegant presentation (from Anne Fruart via Vermont Creamery.  Mix it up: potato latkes with cauliflower from Idaho Potatoes (recipe at right).  Our personal heaven: latkes with smoked salmon, caviar, filled sour cream and a bit of chive (photo courtesy Diva Eats World).
You might prefer the parting of the Red Sea, the when God delivered the 10 Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai, or Passover, when 10 plagues passed over the households of the children of Israel and wreaked havoc on all others, culminating in the Exodus, freedom from slavery.
But our favorite Hebrew miracle is the Chanukah lamp oil. resulting in the Festival of Lights. It commemorates the miracle of a temple lamp (menorah) which had enough purified the oil for one day. It would take a week to make more purified oil. But a miracle occurred: After the the menorah was lit, the flames burned for eight days—by which time new vats of purified oil were ready.
Why is it our favorite Jewish holiday? It comes with fried food, commemorating the lamp oil. That includes latkes, fried potato pancakes.
THE HISTORY OF LATKES
The popular potato latkes of European Jewish cuisine descend from Sicilian ricotta pancakes that appeared in the Middle Ages. They traveled north to Roman, where the Jewry called them cassola. Here’s a recipe for ricotta latkes. Traditionally sweetened, you can make a savory version with herbs instead of sugar.
Potato latkes (meaning “fried cakes” in Yiddish) are an Ashkenazi invention that gained popularity in Eastern Europe during the mid 1800s.
While the ricotta pancakes, a cousin to cheese blintzes are delicious, our bet is that most people would rather have fried potatoes!
Here’s a longer history of latkes in Idaho Potato (photo #3).
RECIPE #1: POTATO, ONION & CAULIFLOWER LATKES
In addition to varying the latke ingredients, you can try different condiments. We made a curry-yogurt dip for these.
1. PLACE the cauliflower florets in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times until it resembles a rice texture. Pour into a large mixing bowl.
2. ADD the onion to the food processor and pulse a few times until it is very finely chopped; add to the mixing bowl.
3. REPLACE the steel blade with a shredding blade or attachment and feed the potato pieces through the tube until all are shredded. Add to the mixing bowl.
4. ADD the eggs, flour, salt, pepper and parsley to the bowl and combine thoroughly. If liquid begins to accumulate at the bottom, remove with a spoon.
5. HEAT the oil in a large skillet or cast iron pan and add scoopfuls of the mixture to form pancakes. Fry for about 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Serve with sour cream, Greek yogurt or other garnish of choice.
FOR THE TOPPING
You can serve more than one topping. Our mom always served sour cream and her homemade applesauce (as did her mom); but this is another century. Try fusion seasonings, go crazy (within reason) with toppings like cardamom applesauce, curried Greek yogurt or 3-herb sour cream.
BEYOND POTATO LATKES
And here’s an even more veg-centric recipe from Good Eggs: the classic potato-onion combination with parsnips, carrots and leeks.
And for beet lovers, there are (drum roll) beet latkes. Try them now or save them for Valentine’s Day. Serve them Russian style with fresh dill and sour cream.
You can also make parsnip-centric latkes, carrot and raisin latkes: Go wherever your palate takes you.
Want cheese with your latkes? Start with this recipe for Ginger Pancakes With Herbed Goat Cheese by Najwa Kronfel of Delicious Shots.
In photo #5, these latkes are paired with a crunchy Asian slaw.
1. COMBINE the peeled potatoes and onions in a big bowl; mix with your hands. In another bowl, combine the peeled parsnips, leeks and carrots.
2. SQUEEZE the excess liquid out of the potato-onion mixture, using your hands, a clean kitchen towel, cheesecloth or your hands. (We use a large strainer and press down the mixture.). Place in a separate bowl and add the eggs, a few big pinches of salt and flour—again mixing with your hands. Form patties about 3 inches in diameter and just shy of an inch thick. Do the same for the parsnip mixture.
3. ADD oil to a large skillet, until it’s about ¼-inch deep. Heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the first batch of latkes, leaving plenty of room between each of them. Cook for about 5 to 6 minutes on each side until they’re a deep golden brown on each side, and fully cooked through.
4. DRAIN: Place the latkes on a platter or in a baking sheet/dish covered in paper towels and sprinkle with flakey salt immediately. Keep the latkes warm in an oven set to very low. Repeat until you’ve cooked all of the latkes.