Mixed Potato Latkes
Winter calls for comfort, and what is more comforting than potatoes? That’s right. Fried potatoes. Which is why latkes make the perfect Hanukkah food. But, of course, I am completely unable to do anything normal. So these are mixed potato latkes, with both russet and sweet potatoes creating a flavorful harmony that’s just simply irresistible.
There is a long history of latkes being associated with Hanukkah. I learned that the first mention of latkes in relation to Hanukkah comes from Italy in the 13th century, when a rabbi included them in a list of foods that should be included in a Purim feast. When the Spanish expelled the Jews from Sicily in the 15th century, they brought their latkes to the Jews of Northern Italy, contributing to the spread of this tradition.
These early latkes were made with ricotta cheese, because dairy was considered a holy food in Jewish tradition. This stems from the story of Judith, a Jewish heroine who saved her village from an invading army by plying the enemy general with wine and cheese before beheading him. The cheese grew to symbolize strength and power over enemies larger than the Jewish people, so dairy foods were commonly eaten during holy celebrations such as Purim. Modern potato latkes (sans cheese) became more common in the 19th century among the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe, when a crop blight caused Poles and Ukrainians to plant excess potatoes to survive. These latkes are the ones that are most commonly eaten today.
I put out a call to my Jewish friends on Facebook, asking for tips and tricks to make sure I got this dish right. One of my friends said to not be afraid of tradition – he makes sweet potato latkes and finds them delicious. I was intrigued, and thought “What would they taste like if I mixed the potatoes?” The answer is absolutely delicious. Salty, fatty, and a little sweet from the sweet potatoes, these latkes are one of my new favorite things to make. A word to the wise: frying makes your house smell for days. Another friend told me her family uses a portable burner to fry them outside, but I didn’t want to invest in one. I SHOULD’VE LISTENED. Frying oil smells amazing before you eat, but after you’re full… not as pleasant. So if you have the option to do it outside, or at least fully vent your house, DO IT.
One other way I messed with the traditional recipe was by not using schmaltz. Schmaltz is chicken fat, and is commonly used in Jewish cooking. As a vegetarian I had to avoid it, so I used canola oil, and I think it turned out find. You want a neutral oil if you’re not using schmaltz, so that the latkes don’t take on too much flavor from the oil. If you use schmaltz, though, I’ve heard that it adds a great umami flavor from the concentrated chicken fat. So it’s up to you! Likewise, the condiment you serve them with is up to personal preference. Applesauce and sour cream are common accompaniments, but I also got the suggestion of jam, so I added some pineapple passionfruit jam that I had just bought to try it. All options were delicious, but since the mixed potato latkes are a little sweet naturally from the sweet potatoes, I preferred the sour cream for a little savory kick.
I hope you enjoy my take on this traditional Hanukkah food, whether you are celebrating the holiday or just making some comfort food for yourself. Mixed potato latkes might not be the most common of versions, but it adds something a little different to a centuries-old food. What variations do you like to do on tradition? Let me know in the comments below! For now, have a happy Hanukkah, and let’s toast to good drinking, great eating, and even better living.
Mixed Potato Latkes
- Food processor (or box grater with large holes)
- 2 large sweet potatoes
- 3 small to medium russet potatoes
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 1 tsp dill
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 eggs
- 1/4-1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs (use matzo meal for a more traditional binder)
- 1 cup canola oil (use schmaltz for a more traditional fat)
- Using the grating disc of a food processor (or a box grater with the large holes), grate the potatoes and onion together. Transfer the mixture to a cheesecloth or clean tea towel and squeeze as much moisture out as you can. Transfer the mixture to a strainer set over a bowl and let sit for 10 minutes to let as much liquid drain out as possible.
- Dump the liquid and add the mixture to the bowl. Add seasonings, egg, and 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs or matzo meal, and mix together with your hands until the mixture is able to hold its shape when you form it into a patty with your hands. If the mixture falls apart, add more breadcrumbs until it can hold.
- Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When a bit of the mixture sizzles immediately when tossed into the oil, it's ready. Carefully form patties of the mixture 3-4 inches in diameter, and slide them into the oil. Cook about 4-5 minutes on each side, until the edges look almost burned and the centers are a deep golden brown. If you squeezed enough moisture out at the beginning, you should have wonderfully crisp latkes. Drain them on a paper-towel lined baking sheet and repeat the process until all of the mixture has been used up. Serve warm with applesauce, sour cream, or jam!