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It’s about the oil

Posted by Roberta Levine on December 8, 2017

I’d been making latkes for many years before I finally realized something about this food tradition: Chanukah is the oil holiday – a celebration of miraculous oil that lasted 8 days.

For me, good latkes are a small miracle too. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to making (what I think are) the best latkes.

  1. The recipe: Joan Nathan’s from her classic book, The Jewish Holiday Kitchen.
  2. Texture: I do all the grating in a food processor. If you like fine-textured latkes, use the steel blade. If you like coarse-textured latkes, which give you more surface area for crispiness, use the grating blade. I like an in-between version so I use the grating blade to grate all the potatoes and onions and then I run the grated potatoes and onions through the grating blade a second time.
  3. No more soggy latkes! It’s surprising how much liquid there is in potatoes. I hand-squeeze the grated potatoes and onions over a bowl to catch the liquid and put the squeezed potatoes and onions into another bowl to mix with the other ingredients. The starch in the liquid quickly settles to the bottom so you can pour off the liquid and add the starch to the latke mixture.
  4. Use enough oil: Nathan’s recipe calls for 1″ of oil in the frying pan. Do not scrimp on oil in an effort to make “healthier” latkes. And never, ever substitute cooking spray for oil; the results will be nearly inedible. Remember, Chanukah is all about the oil.
  5. Making ahead of time: Most of us don’t want to be standing over a hot stove when everyone else is eating. Latkes really can be made ahead of time and re-heated to  taste so good that no one will ever be the wiser. Here’s how: Make latkes and with a slotted spoon, remove from hot oil and line up on a cookie sheet that fits into your freezer. (Don’t worry about blotting off the oil because when you put them back in the oven, there’s oil on the latkes to gently re-fry.) Freeze for a couple of hours, place latkes in a plastic bag and seal.
  6. Reheat: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange frozen latkes on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan and re-heat in oven until they are hot all the way through. Check at about 7 minutes but it likely will take somewhat longer.



10 medium russet or baking potatoes

2 medium onions

2 large or 3 medium eggs

1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, bread crumbs, or matzah meal

Salt and white pepper

Vegetable oil


1. Peel the potatoes if the skin is coarse; otherwise, just clean them well. Keep them in cold water until ready to prepare the latkes.

2. Starting with the onions, alternately grate some of the onions on the large holes of the grater and some of the potatoes on the smallest holes. This will keep the potato mixture from blackening. Press out as much liquid as possible and reserve the starchy sediment at the bottom of the bowl. Return the sediment to the mixture.*

3. Blend the potato mixture with the eggs, flour, and salt and pepper to taste.

4. Heat 1 inch of oil in a frying pan. Drop about 1 tablespoon of mixture for each latke into the skillet and fry, turning once. When golden and crisp on both sides, drain on paper towels. Serve with yogurt, sour cream, sugar, or applesauce.

*The steel blade of a food processor or the grating blade are less painful ways of grating the potatoes and the onions. The blade makes a smooth consistency and the grater a crunchy one.

Serves 8-10 (Pareve)

—Joan Nathan,The Jewish Holiday Kitchen

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