As a child, I remember devouring potato pancakes during many Jewish holidays, such as Hanukkah and Passover. I watched people slather these round low disks in apple sauce. However, at our home this iconic tradition called for the tang of chilled sour cream. The warm, crispy potatoes, with its soft center, tasted delicious when dipped in the cool cream. I top mine with a sprinkling of this ancient grain.
Very briefly, here’s information about Hanukkah. Around 200 BCE, over 2,000 years ago, the Jews fought against their Greek-Syrian neighbors and oppressors during the Maccabean Revolt. During this long siege, a man named Antiochus ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods. The Jews rebelled, thousands of them died when the Syrians descended upon them. At one time, as part of the story goes, the Jews were defending the Holy temple of Jerusalem; it appears that they had enough oil to last one night, however, a miracle occurred and the oil lasted eight nights! Thus, the Festival of Lights, or Hanukkah happened.
Back to cooking… I think I was born to be a “foodie” it was in my genes, so to speak! But life happens, our journey turns, changes, but still, deep within me is a love of food, preparing it, cooking it, and watching people smile as they crunch down on the patties! The entire process of grating the potatoes, the onion, mixing everything together, adding seasoning felt rewarding as I patted down on the slightly wet combination before frying them. I especially relished forming the potato mixture, squeezing out the extra liquid, then carefully frying each mound, anxious to complete the process and excited for my guests to enjoy t hese tasty morsels!
INGREDIENTS yield 45-60, depending on size of each pancake
3 pounds russet potatoes – washed, peeled and grated in a food process or using the large holes on a box grater
1 large onion, grated, in a food possessor or using a box grater with the large holes
2 eggs, lightly mixed
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup, plus 3 Tbsp. flour or potato starch
1 cup oil – gradually adding more as needed, keeping about a 1/2 inch of hot oil in the pan
1 After you grate the onion and potatoes, add the eggs and mix. Separate them into 2 piles. One pile at a time goes on a clean kitchen towel over a bowl. Wrap the towel fully around the mixture and squeeze out as much moisture as you can over a bowl. Toss the small amount of liquid down the sink, but save the thickish dark starch that will collect on the bottom of the bowl. Do the same with the second mound. Alternatively, prepare the whole mixture and add it to cheesecloth, squeezing hard.
2 Put both mounds in a large bowl, stirring in the salt, pepper, baking powder and flour. Mix well.
3 Heat the oil to medium-high using about an inch or less of oil in the pan. Test the hotness with a small drop of the potatoes in the oil, to make sure the oil is very hot. Using 2 tablespoons with the mixture formed together, or use a number 30 size scoop, carefully placing the mound in the pan, pressing out some additional moisture. Flatten each mound slightly with the back of the spoon. Fry each mound for about 3-4 minutes on each side. Add additional oil as needed. Drain the pancakes on paper towels for a few minutes. Sprinkle a bit more salt on t hem while warm.
4 Serve immediately, or keep in the refrigerator for 1-2 days, or place in aluminum foil, tightly wrapped, in a flat layer in the freezer for a few weeks. Reheat at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes, checking often.
Tips and Tweaks
- At step 2, your welcome to add 1 egg, mixed a little first then added. This will help with some binding.
- leave out the onion all together, or add a small amount of chives, or try two small leeks insteac of the onion.
- At step 2 stir in 1-2 minced garlic cloves.
- Once cooked, serve alongside sweetened applesauce or sour cream, or plain Greek yogurt.
- Naturally, add any spice if you want to kick up the flavor – try cayenne, garam masala, more pepper, a teaspoon or two of hot chili sauce. Do this at step 2.
- Also, add herbs that you may favor, like — cumin, oregano, smoked paprika, thyme, winter savory. Use about half a teaspoon of each or just pick those herbs you like. Don’t overdo the herbal additions too much so that you still gain the full taste of the potato pancake.
- For larger potato pancakes, use an ice cream scoop.
- Some traditional main dishes served with potato pancakes are roasted chicken and beef brisket.
- Keep the oil hot, at a good medium-high, otherwise if too low the potatoes will get soggy and icky!