A couple of years ago I went to a Hanukkah party that started with the best wines to pour at a latke fest: Light, sparkling wines like Moscato and Prosecco cut cleanly through the delicious oil that clings to latkes. We ate batch after batch, which provided a continual reminder of the miraculous oil that burned in the Temple and gave us reason to eat more latkes!
But each batch of those latkes was more gorgeous and delicious than the last, having been crafted from different colors of potatoes, vegetables and fruits. The apples came in the latkes as well as in the sauce, along with latkes made from deep ruby beets, purple and blue potatoes, bright orange winter squash, the creamy ivory and green of cauliflower and zucchini, and the earthy tones of mushrooms and broccoli, studded with brilliant pomegranate seeds.
It has become clear that it’s all the rage to bring the garden into the latke pan, with the myriad recipes that all these wonderful pancakes require. So I want to provide you with two master veggie/fruit latke recipes (one for vegetables, one for fruits), along with a syrup and a delicious cream that lowers the fat content of the requisite sour cream on our plates of latkes.
The basic recipes use eggs and varying amounts of flour, potato starch and/or matzoh meal, depending upon the moisture content of the fruits or vegetables. Suggested combinations are given with possible spices and herbs, but if you have something else on your shelf, garden or fridge, try it out! Part of the fun is in the personality your own creativity will bring to your latke party!
Basic Veggie Latkes
2 lbs. vegetables, peeled and seeded as needed, grated on biggest holes of hand grater, or shred with shredding attachment of a food processor
3 beaten eggs
1/4 cup flour or potato starch or 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. matzoh meal (not cake meal)
1 Tsp. salt (or salt substitute)
2 to 3 tsp. spice or dried herbs, as desired
1–3 Tbs. fresh herbs, chopped fine
Olive oil or vegetable oil for frying
If you’re using mushrooms, green onions, spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens, leeks, onions, green or yellow zucchini, or Napa, green or red cabbage: Clean thoroughly, chop or grate and combine with other grated vegetables.
For carrots, parsnips, celery root (delicious!), yams, sweet potatoes, beets or golden beets: Peel and grate and add to the mixture. Use in combination or by themselves with just grated onion or chopped green onions.
For butternut, pumpkin or other winter squash: Peel, cut open carefully and scrape out seeds. Grate as you would any other vegetable.
Once you have your vegetables grated, you may want to add a couple of potatoes to the mix to add starch, body and crispness to the finished latkes. Peel and grate the potatoes separately and let drain for 10 minutes in a strainer placed over a bowl. Discard the liquid in the bowl, leaving the potato starch in the bottom. Dry the shredded potatoes with paper towels, add to your vegetable mixture, and mix in the collected potato starch.
Some great combinations:
• Zucchini, winter squash and green onions accented with dill weed, mint, and ground cumin
• Mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower and russet potatoes with shallots, thyme, tarragon, parsley, a dash of mace or nutmeg, and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds
• Beets, winter squash and grated or green onions with ginger, cinnamon, a wisp of clove and a tablespoon of honey. Serve sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds.
• Leeks, red onions, mustard greens, slivered almonds and Yukon gold potatoes with chopped garlic and chives.
• Getting the picture? Use frozen green beans, if you have them, with some thawed frozen corn, basil pesto, shredded cabbage, a bit of sage and red pepper, and add a dash of orange juice or zest. Thaw frozen veggies and dry on paper towels before adding the eggs, starch and seasonings or the latkes will be wet and not fry correctly.
To cook veggie latkes, be sure to use enough oil in the pan to almost float the latkes. My mom — and her mom — say that 1/2 inch of oil in the pan is essential, heated slowly to shimmering. Add a bit of latke batter to the oil when you think it’s hot enough; if it sizzles but doesn’t spit, the oil is hot enough. Make your latkes from 3–5” diameter but make sure they are no more than 1/2 inch thick or they will remain raw in the center. When a latke is golden brown on the first side, carefully turn over and brown on the other side.
Be prepared to add oil to the pans. Remember that the latkes will be absorbing some oil as they cook and to ensure the 15th latke is as good as the first, the oil level needs to be constant. When you add more oil, skim the crisped latke crumbs from the pan so they don’t burn as your latke frying proceeds, and let the new oil come to the correct temperature before adding new latkes to the pan.
Depending on the party you’re having, you can keep your veggie latkes warm in a 200º oven and serve them all together, serve them hot from the pan (sometimes your guests or family will grab them before you can get them to the oven), or freeze them flat, stack them and reheat in the oven in a single layer at 350º
Yield: About 20 3-inch latkes
Basic Fall Fruit Latkes
1-1/2 lbs. apples, under-ripe pears, quinces, or any combination, peeled, cored and grated
1/2 lb. russet potatoes, sweet potatoes or butternut squash, peeled and grated
2 Tbs. lemon juice
2 Tbs. sugar or brown sugar, if the fruit is tart
1/3 cup flour, potato starch or matzoh meal, or a combination
3 beaten eggs
1/4 Tsp. salt
2 Tsp. vanilla (optional)
Herbs and/ or spices (suggestions follow)
Mix the fruit with the lemon juice. Add sweetener, potatoes or squash and flour, potato starch or matzoh meal. Mix in the eggs, salt, vanilla and spices.
Some delicious combinations:
• Try apples and russet potatoes with curry powder, sesame seeds and sesame oil
• Bosc pears, Yukon gold potatoes, rosemary, honey, black pepper, and thin-sliced red onions
• Quince, apples, butternut squash and red potatoes, fresh thyme, a dash of ground coriander and cumin
• D’Anjou pears, purple potatoes, sweet potatoes, fresh sage, chopped walnuts, pomegranate seeds, tangerine juice
• Have fun by adding apples or pears to a vegetable combination for a fresh, sweeter flavor in your veggie latkes.
Yield: About 16 to 20 3-inch latkes
Fruit Syrup Your Latkes
The method for these syrups is so simple you can make them while you are doing anything else in the kitchen. When you peel and core apples, quince or pears for latkes, pies, cobblers or sauce, save the peelings and cores, put them in a large pot and cover with water to about 2 inches above the peelings.
Add one cup of sugar or brown sugar for peels and cores from about six pieces of fruit, add a half lemon, sliced, a stick or two of cinnamon, one or two cloves, two or three slices of fresh ginger (optional), and a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme or other fresh or dried herbs.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and let cook for a couple of hours, adding water to keep the level the same throughout the cooking. If you don’t have time to let the syrup simmer for two hours, just turn the heat off and bring the syrup back up to a simmer when you’re back in the kitchen.
Strain out the solids and return the liquid to the heat. Bring to a boil and let simmer until the syrup is just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Cool and serve warm or at room temperature instead of applesauce. To make a truly delicious dessert sauce, bring the syrup to a simmer and add 1/2 cup of heavy cream for each cup of syrup. Simmer until the cream is completely incorporated, about 5 min. Let cool, cover and store refrigerated. Reheat to use on ice cream, cobblers, pies, strudels or cakes.
Lebneh is a strained yogurt cheese widely used in Israel and the Middle East. It’s tart, creamy, delicious, and very easy to make.
1 qt. natural yogurt with no pectin, gums or preservatives. (Greek, Indian and high-quality domestic yogurt are the best, preferably whole milk. Lowfat can work well if the yogurt is of excellent quality)
Medium strainer or colander
Eighteen-inch square of clean linen or thin tea towel
Three-foot length of kitchen string
One qt. bowl or container
1 tsp. kosher salt or to taste
Line the strainer or colander with the clean cloth and rest it on the bowl. Pour the yogurt into the cloth, gather up the corners above the yogurt and tie firmly together with the one end of the string. Hang the yogurt in its cloth bag above the bowl, tying the string to a kitchen cabinet handle, a shelf in the refrigerator or, at night, the faucet of the kitchen sink. Let the yogurt hang for between two and eight hours, until no liquid drains from the bag.
Replace the cloth in the strainer and untie the bag. Carefully transfer the lebneh to a bowl and whisk or stir in the salt. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. To serve, vigorously stir the lebneh till smooth and creamy and use as a lovely substitute for sour cream with any of your beautiful, fragrant, colorful and very trendy latkes!
And have a very healthy and happy Hanukkah!