Healthy Latkes for Hanukkah

Anyone who loves to cook eagerly awaits the holiday season with a mix of joy and anxiety. So much to cook; so little time.

But Hanukkah is different. There's only one dish you have to perfect: latkes.

It would seem that nothing could go wrong when it comes to such a simple recipe made with only a few ingredients including grated potatoes and onions. However, this is not the case.

Start with the pressure of tradition surrounding this Hanukkah recipe. Growing up, I wanted to make these potato pancakes just like my mother and grandmother made them. Crispy on the edges; soft and moist inside. But making them like that takes practice.

I remember watching my grandmother and mother peeling and grating mounds of potatoes, then squeezing all the liquid from them using an immense aluminum colander pierced with little holes in the shape of the Star of David. I think my mom still uses it for the holiday. It barely fits in the sink.

Jewish homes throughout America will all share traditions just like this during the holiday, and latkes will grace just about every Hanukkah table. After all, the fried potato pancakes symbolize the miracle of a tiny bit of oil that was able to light the temple lanterns for eight days. And it is this miracle we celebrate with the Festival of Lights, or Hanukkah. As much as I love tradition, I have changed my eating habits through the years. As a result, I often don't fry my latkes. OK, that may take away some of the symbolism, but my memories and health are intact.

On my Hanukkah menu, I always offer traditional pancakes made with just grated white potatoes, onions, eggs, salt, pepper and matzo meal or flour.

Sometimes I use panko or Japanese bread crumbs to bind the pancakes. Sometimes I use Yukon gold or purple potatoes. I also add a pinch baking powder, which lightens them up a bit.

Russets are a favorite potato that has just the right amount of starchiness for traditional latkes. Keep the peeled potatoes in water to prevent browning while you prepare the remaining ingredients for the pancakes.

The greatest problem when making the perfect pancake is the amount of liquid. Grated potatoes produce a good amount of starchy juice, which must be removed before you add the eggs. If the batter sits, the potatoes continue to give off liquid, and the potatoes can turn brown or oxidize from contact with the air.

Here's my method for keeping the potatoes dry and white: I grate the potatoes and onions. Then I add half the beaten eggs and mix them in well to coat the potatoes and prevent them from browning. I let this mixture sit 15 minutes in a colander. Then I press all the liquid out. I transfer the batter to a bowl, add the remaining eggs and matzo meal along with the other dry ingredients. This method always works.

I offer both My Favorite Traditional Latkes recipe and a recipe for Garden Vegetable Latkes. I serve both with homemade applesauce and low-fat sour cream.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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