photo by Emma Pease

Last night’s midweek service, which was about Hanukah, was preceded by a latke feast, and I invited people to come even earlier than that to join in making the latkes. Over a dozen did, and we had a great time.

I billed the dish as the World’s Best Latkes and then had to come up with an actual recipe, since the way I really cook these would go more like, “Buy twice as many potatoes as you think your family can eat. Peel and grate. Add enough grated onion to make it look right. Add enough egg for it to stick together . . . ” etc. Not very helpful, though my great-grandmother in the Old Country would approve. Attendees and cooks asked for the recipe, so here is what we did last night. The only way to improve on it would be to make sure you always have a dozen fun people to cook with.

I forgot to tell everyone last night that there’s a reason latkes are the quintessential Hanukah dish: you are supposed to eat fried foods as a tip of the hat to that miraculous oil. That’s what we call a handy theological excuse. Now, in addition to the miracles of a small army defeating a large one and the oil’s lasting for an extra seven days, do you suppose there’s a miracle by which the calories from oil in which latkes were cooked disappear?

Or let’s just appreciate this miracle, pointed out by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield:

that people dared to light that tiny bit of oil and trust that somehow things would work out. Perhaps the enduring miracle which Hanukkah celebrates is that there is always more light than we first imagine and that the fuel to create it is really there when we look hard enough and dare to trust its power.

Amen to that, and Happy Hanukah, everyone!

The World’s Best Latkes

For every 3-4 people:

4 lbs potatoes (gold, or a mix of red and gold)

2 medium onions

3 eggs

1 tsp salt

4 Tbsp flour

black pepper to taste

Peel and grate potatoes (roughest setting of grater). Let sit a few minutes, then drain out as much liquid as you can.

Peel and grate onion, mix into potatoes.

Add egg(s), salt, and flour, and mix thoroughly.

Pour a generous amount of oil into pan (at least 1/8 deep). Over medium flame, heat oil—don’t let it smoke. Smoking is bad for you.

Using slotted spoon, spoon potato mix into the oil.

When latkes are brown around the edges, flip, adding oil a small amount at a time if necessary.

When latkes are golden brown on both sides, drain them on paper bags or paper towels, and keep warm in a low oven until ready to serve (do not leave out on counter, or they will disappear before dinner). Take out as many of the little bits as you can before starting a new batch.

Serve with applesauce* or sour cream. About 1 lb of potatoes per person makes a hefty one-dish meal; halve that amount if you’re serving as a side dish.

*For an even more fabulous experience, eat with homemade applesauce: 8-10 apples of a few varieties–some cooking apples, some eating apples–and one pear. Core, slice, peel, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks. Put fruit into saucepan over very low heat, with a tablespoon of water and a splash of lemon juice. Cover and cook very slowly, checking once in a while to make sure it isn’t sticking (if there is danger of that, add another tablespoon of water).  If very tart, add a little sugar to taste. When fruit is mostly cooked down, mush with a potato masher and let cool.  (It’s delicious warm too, but when served with latkes, the cool applesauce makes a nice contrast to the piping-hot pancakes.)