We're in the midst of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. It's a celebration of an event when the oil stayed lit for eight days when it should have only lasted for one. So now Jewish people celebrate with eight days of lighting candles, spinning the dreidel, and eating food fried in oil.
That’s an oversimplification, but essentially true. Some people eat donuts, but one of the most recognizable Hanukkah foods is potato latkes. That's potato pancakes, usually made with white potatoes mixed with onions, eggs and flour, and formed into little pancakes and fried. They are… what’s the word?… delicious. I have been known to eat my age in latkes. Okay, not really, but I can eat an embarrassingly enormous portion. Hopefully the other people at the table are too busy chewing to pay attention to my lack of portion control.
If potato latkes are so good, then why make veggie latkes? You might ask. That’s a great question. It’s just for variety, really. You can’t have potato latkes every night of Hanukkah. Well, I suppose you can, but then they wouldn’t be special any more. It’s like drinking a chocolate mocha latte every day. Never mind, bad example. It’s like having pumpkin pie all year round. If you did that, then it wouldn’t mean “Thanksgiving” any more.
Also, it’s nice to mix things up sometimes. White potatoes, while they have a pretty good nutritional pedigree, have been getting a bad rap lately. But if you add some colorful veggies in with the potatoes, such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, and zucchini, then you get a different sort of latke—it just has a different flavor. I won’t try to sell you on their health benefits (they are fried in oil, after all), but they taste great, and they do have a few more vitamins than the plain potato variety, or different ones anyway.
One of the trickiest things with this dish is getting the oil to the right temperature—you want it hot enough to crisp the outer edges of the pancakes, but still allow the insides to cook. I set my stove at medium, and they took about two minutes per side. Keep your eye on them, and remember that the first pancake never turns out. That's why you need to eat it, piping hot. Just be careful not to burn your tongue.
You can eat them the way I like them—freshly fried and steaming hot, with a crispy outside and a soft, hot, steamy inside, and a nice sprinkle of salt. Of course, you can still serve them with applesauce and/or sour cream.
Whether you’re celebrating Hanukkah or not, why don’t you give veggie latkes a try? They'd make a great appetizer, too!
2 White potatoes, peeled and grated
1 Small sweet potato, peeled and grated
1 Medium zucchini, grated
2 Parsnips, peeled and grated
½ White onion, grated or minced (approx. ¾ cup)
¾ Cups flour
½ tsp. salt
Oil, for frying
Applesauce and sour cream, for serving
After peeling and grating the vegetables, squeeze out any excess moisture. You can do this by either placing in a strainer or in a cheesecloth (or clean dishcloth without fabric softener) and squeezing over the sink.
Combine vegetables with flour, eggs, salt and pepper.
Heat a few tablespoons oil in frying pan on medium heat. Scoop mixture by the ¼-cupfulls, and place in oil, flattening a bit. Cook until the edges start to turn golden brown, then flip. When cooked, transfer to a paper towel-lined dish and sprinkle with salt. Place in the oven to keep warm.
Serve with applesauce and/or sour cream.
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