Happy Hanukkah (or Chanukah) to all who observe! As we celebrate the Festival of Lights, I wanted to share a traditional potato latke recipe that’s super easy to make and delicious. And whether you celebrate Hanukkah or not, I promise you’ll enjoy these tasty fried bites of heaven. But before I get to that yumminess, I thought it would be fun to share a brief history lesson on why we eat latkes on Hanukkah.
So, Why Do We Eat Latkes on Hanukkah?
The simple answer is that it’s supposed to remind us of the miracle of the oil associated with Hanukkah.
Hanukkah commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people (led by Judah Maccabee) from the Syrian Greeks and the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. When it came time for the Jews to re-sanctify the temple, the oil used for rituals was needed to light the candelabra. And, despite only having enough oil for one day, the oil miraculously lasted eight days. And there you have it – why we celebrate Hanukkah for eight nights!
And so, to celebrate this miracle, Jews eat foods cooked in oil.
But why potato latkes, exactly? We don’t know!
Historians don’t know which foods existed before the 14th century when dairy and fried foods emerged. And potatoes didn’t make their entrance in Israel until the 19th century.
But in the 15th century, Italian Jews were eating cassola, a fried ricotta cheese pancake (basically the first latke). Then, somewhere along the line, potatoes replaced cheese. So while the origins of potato latkes and Hanukkah are a bit of a mystery, they remain an essential food during these eight special days.
This traditional potato latke recipe is so easy to make. Don’t skimp on the oil, and some cooks use matzo meal instead of flour. While I recommend frying these as the recipe calls for, you can bake them for about 45 minutes at 325° F.
Sour Cream, Applesauce, or Both? The Great Latke Debate
Latkes are usually served with sour cream or applesauce. Some people have both. There’s no right or wrong answer (although some people would disagree!). Ultimately, whatever you decide to serve with your latkes, I’m sure you won’t have any unhappy campers. And whether you’re celebrating Hanukkah or simply want to explore a new dish, potato latkes are sure to be a hit.
Final note: Latkes are a perfect side dish for many recipes. The next time you’re whipping up a brisket or meatloaf, think about latkes. Heck, don’t just think about them; fry up a batch. Or bake. No matter how you prepare them, I’m guessing you won’t have any left when the meal is over – although they do freeze beautifully!
If you’re interested in Jewish cooking in general, you must check out Jake Cohen’s book, which I’ve reviewed, called Jew-ish, A Cookbook: Reinvented recipes from a Modern Mensch. IT IS FABULOUS! Or, if you’re into more traditional Jewish cooking, try The Complete Guide To Traditional Jewish Cooking by Marlena Spieler. And if you’re into Kosher cooking, The Modern Jewish Table: 100 Kosher Recipes from Around the Globe, by Tracey Fine is a terrific choice.
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