Chicken soup may be the "Jewish penicillin," but latkes are the "Jewish soul food." And there's nothing I'm craving more this Hanukkah than a plateful of earthy, humble, pan-fried potato pancakes opens in a new tab – warm and crispy on the outside, soft and savory on the inside – shared with friends and loved ones, with a little sour cream on the side.Latkes are cooked in oil to remind us of a 2000-year-old story of hope, the story of the Maccabees, a plucky band of five brothers turned freedom-fighters, who successfully overthrew an oppressive Greco-Syrian regime, and allowed the Jews to reclaim their land, their faith and their holy Temple in Jerusalem after years of persecution. After cleansing and repairing the Temple, the Maccabees found a tiny flask of oil to light a menorah (ritual lamp) as part of the Temple’s big rededication ceremony. The oil was supposedly only enough to light up the Temple for one day, but it miraculously kept the lamp burning for eight days. Hence, Jews around the world commemorate Hanukkah with eight days of candle lighting and feasting on soul-satisfying foods opens in a new tab, such as hearty lentil stew, tender roast brisket, ginger-spiked applesauce and latkes galore – from no-frills potato opens in a new tab to zesty zucchini opens in a new tab to this Southern-bred girl's personal favorite, the sweet potato pancake opens in a new tab.Looking for more latke love to get you through the eight days of Hanukkah? Check out these soulful recipes and latke love stories from a talented cadre of food bloggers and journalists:
An Equal Opportunity Sweet Potato Latke with Ruby Red Cranberry Sauce
You don't have to be vegan or gluten-sensitive to enjoy these egg-free, gluten-free sweet potato latkes opens in a new tab and ruby red cranberry sauce from Karina's Kitchen opens in a new tab. And as Karina reminds us, you certainly don’t have to be Jewish to love the latke:
“Latkes. Oy, how I love them. What's not to love? You have my favorite comfort food- potatoes. You have olive oil. And with a little bit of elbow grease (grating said potatoes) you have crispy tender goodness. You don't have to be Jewish to love the pure genius of latkes. You can be Half- Jewess, like yours truly, or even Honorary Jewish like Diane Keaton seems to be, slipping in Bubbe and schmata and drek in casual conversation. They say on St. Patrick's Day that everyone is Irish. Maybe during Hanukkah, everyone is Jewish?”
An Indian-inspired latke and some fun facts on oil
While most people don't equate oily,deep-fried foods with optimal health, Jodi of Food Touring opens in a new tab points out that we need dietary fats for our health including glowy skin, regulation of cholesterol metabolism, and to carry and aid the absorption of vitamins. Unsaturated fats from fish, nuts, and vegetable oils are good for us in moderation and reduce high cholesterol levels that can lead to heart disease.In addition to dishing up a good rationalization on why it's ok to induldge in a second or third helping of deep-fried potato pancakes, Jodi also graciously shares a recipe for Indian curry-seasoned sweet potato latkes opens in a new tab.
Latkes: easy on the wallet, big on taste, potentially potato free and oh-so-versatile
Our Jewish grandmothers from The Old Country knew a thing or two about stretching their meager food rations, and hence the traditional potato latke was born. Phyllis Glazer of the L.A. Times shares a brief history opens in a new tab on the traditional latke and some very non-traditional latke recipes:
“The word latke derives from Yiddish, the Jewish language spoken by East European Jews. For Jewish villagers living in Russia or Poland, pickings were slim in winter, and potatoes were cheap and available from the root cellar. Grating and making potatoes into little patties to be fried, millions of Jewish mothers provided sustenance to their hungry children with just a few potatoes and very little fuel…..”
Ms. Glazer also reminds us that it's the olive oil, not the potato, which is central to the story of Hanukkah. Forego the potatoes all together and try these latke recipes using olives opens in a new tab, sweet ricotta opens in a new tab, even beets opens in a new tab.What’s your favorite spin on the soul-satisfying latke?