Latkes, or potato pancakes, are a staple of the Hanukkah season, as families everywhere gather to light the menorah, celebrate, and enjoy traditional treats together. But the delicious food can be hard to master, and an improperly fried latke can really mess up the holiday. No one likes a soggy latke, or a burnt one. Luckily, we found the best hack to use while cooking latkes — and you won’t believe how useful a carrot can be!
A Short History of Latkes
Latkes weren’t always a Hanukkah go-to. According to The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks (Buy from IndieBound, $50), pancakes were first served at Hanukkah after a rabbi in Italy included them on a list of foods that were appropriate to eat during the holiday. When the Jewish people of Sicily were expelled in 1492 by the Spanish, they took their tradition to northern Italy. The pancakes caught on from there, but they were very different from the ones we’re used to now. The Italians made theirs with ricotta, which worked perfectly, as dairy and fried foods are the two traditional Hanukkah treats. The resulting pancake was crispy and cheesy. Potato latkes caught on a few centuries later in Poland and the Ukraine, after a crop failures led to mass planting of potatoes.
The Trouble With Latkes
A couple centuries later, fried potato latkes are a staple in American Hanukkah celebrations, and anyone who tries them, loves them. But, they’re not so easy to make! Since the potatoes are shredded before frying, small bits tend to break off while they cook — and those little pieces can cause a lot of trouble when they burn to a crisp in the hot oil, turning it brown.
Thanks to Adeena Sussman, author of Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen: A Cookbook (Buy from Amazon, $20), we now have a way to prevent that! She gave The Kitchn a few tips on how to cook the perfect latke, and the one we need most —how to keep latkes from burning — came straight from Israel. Next time you fry up latkes, add a whole trimmed carrot to the oil. The carrot works as a magnet that attracts all the little pieces, keeping the oil clean and less prone to burning. Sussman said the carrot will work for a few batches, until it’s shriveled and a bit caramelized.
How to Cook Latkes
Now that you know the secret to cooking perfect latkes, it’s time to actually fry them up! Here’s what you’ll need:
- 2 tbsp. cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. onion powder
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/16 tsp. freshly ground pepper
- 1 c. grated peeled russet potatoes (about 1/2 lb)
- 1 egg white, well beaten
- 1 tbsp. canola oil
- 1 whole trimmed carrot
- Optional garnishes and accompaniments: paprika, chopped chives or green onions, sour cream, applesauce
In medium bowl, whisk together cornstarch, baking powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Add grated potatoes and egg white, and stir to combine thoroughly. In a 10” nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Use a ¼-cup metal measuring cup to drop four mounds of batter into skillet and flatten each mound slightly with spatula, if necessary. Add the carrot to the oil. Fry pancakes until lightly browned, about five minutes on each side. Serve immediately, with garnishes if desired.
Enjoy your perfectly fried potato latkes!