At countless Hanukkah celebrations, latkes will be there.
These fried potato pancakes are among the symbolic holiday staples that bring Jewish people together during the eight-day Festival of Lights, which began at sundown on Saturday.
Homemade or store-bought, topped or not, variations to these fried potato pancakes are endless.
But most everyone agrees: Latkes should be crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle.
Esther Kraft, 81, of Farmington Hills, Mich., has been making latkes for more than 50 years. She makes them the way her mother taught her and the way she taught her children and grandchildren to make them.
"It’s a lot of fun," Kraft says of making latkes with her family. "We laugh a lot, and we all work together to make them — and then eat them."
Kraft sticks to a basic recipe. She uses russet potatoes because they don’t have as much moisture as other varieties. An essential step in the process, she says, is placing the shredded potatoes in a tea towel and twisting it to squeeze out the excess moisture.
"Using a dish cloth absorbs more water," Kraft says. "But you also don’t want to make them too dry."
Latkes are a simple mixture of peeled and shredded potato mixed with grated onion, eggs and some flour to bind it all together. Spooned into hot oil, latkes are flattened and then fried. The oil represents the miracle that occurred in the Second Century B.C., when a one-day supply of oil left for the Jerusalem temple’s eternal light lasted eight days.
Kraft’s daughter Helayne Kaplan, 55, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., says making latkes together turns the chore into a fun activity during which family memories are made.
"It’s the sizzle of them hitting the hot oil in the pan, the smell of the grease and the crunch of the latke," Kaplan says.
For Micki Lynn, 41, of West Bloomfield, Mich., latkes are a tradition whether they are homemade or bought.
In recent years, Lynn’s family and friends began gathering at a local bowling alley, where they celebrate Hanukkah with pizza, salad — and latkes .
And, she says, there is nothing wrong with store-bought latkes.
"It’s more important that (latkes) be there, whether they come from one’s kitchen or not," Lynn says.
Go for a savory flavor or something sweet
Here are eight flavorful latke toppings for the eight nights of Hanukkah:
Salmon spread: Mix sour cream with chopped fresh dill and capers. Spread on latkes and top with chopped smoked salmon.
Spicy applesauce: Spruce up plain applesauce with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
Cranberry sauce: Mix whole cranberry sauce with chopped or shredded apple. Serve with sweet potato latkes.
Herb cream: Mix sour cream with freshly chopped herbs.
Chipotle mayo: Mix 1 chipotle chili pepper in canned adobo sauce with « cup reduced-fat mayonnaise.
Cinnamon sour cream: Whisk 1 cup reduced-fat sour cream with 2 teaspoons sugar and « teaspoon ground cinnamon.
Apple and onion: Mix chopped apple and chopped onion with lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Serve with sweet potato latkes.
Asian fusion: Mix 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce, 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, 1 teaspoon rice vinegar and 1 tablespoon sweet Asian-style chili sauce. Serve with green onion latkes.
Liven up recipes
If you’re looking to change up your latke repertoire, think outside the spud.
Instead of plain white potatoes, try sweet potatoes and other root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, beets; or shredded vegetables like zucchini or summer squash. Or use a mixture of white potatoes with other vegetables.
Also consider mixing up your seasonings and aromatics and using sauteed leeks in place of onions and fresh herbs. Be sure to peel all root vegetables.
And when choosing the potatoes, consider the all-purpose russet potato. A starchy potato with less moisture, it will hold the mixture together better. Yukon Gold potatoes are also a fine choice; they will produce a latke with a creamier texture.