What are Latkes?

wiseGEEK Writer

Latkes, or potato pancakes, are a traditional Jewish dish, often served during Hanukkah. They have gained popularity as a Hanukkah dish because they are fried in oil, commemorating the oil that miraculously provided light for eight days. Luckily, Jewish restaurants and delis frequently serve latkes year round, so the dish can be enjoyed at any season. They are also celebrated as the means by which Judith of Holofernes was able to put the Assyrian leader into a deep sleep, and thus was able to behead him. The Assyrians ended their siege because of the death of their leader.

Applesauce, which is sometimes used to top latkes.
Applesauce, which is sometimes used to top latkes.

Naturally, latkes could not have been composed of potatoes in ancient times, as potatoes are a New World food. Instead, it is thought that they were made of grated cheese bound with a bit of egg, and then fried. A salty cake such as this, along with an ample supply of wine, would certainly have caused any man, Assyrian or otherwise, to feel sleepy.

Judith of Holofernes used latkes to make the leader of the Assyrians fall into a deep sleep before cutting off his head.
Judith of Holofernes used latkes to make the leader of the Assyrians fall into a deep sleep before cutting off his head.

Some traditionalists argue that at Hanukkah, cheese and not potato latkes should be served. However, the introduction of the potato to Europe forever changed the dish. Most often, ancient recipes containing cheese are now forsaken in preference to those established in the 18th century.

Potatoes are a key ingredient in most latkes.
Potatoes are a key ingredient in most latkes.

The name is of Yiddish origin, and may have come from either Germany or Russia. As Jews immigrated to the US, so did the tradition of preparing latkes. Many families now prepare these pancakes from recipes over 100 years old. Therefore, even though they are not prepared as in ancient times, potato latkes have a rich history as well.

Typically, latkes are prepared by grating raw potatoes, usually russets as they have a high starch value. Eggs, salt, and sometimes a bit of green onion are added to the potatoes and lightly mixed. The batter may sit in the refrigerator for a while to allow the starch and eggs to hold the ingredients together. Next, the mix is patted into patties, usually approximately 2 inches (5.08 cm) in diameter. There are those who prepare larger latkes, but these can sometimes fall apart during the cooking and turning process, so smaller cakes may be a good choice for beginners.

Once formed, the latkes are fried in heated oil until they are golden brown on each side. The pancakes may then be patted dry to remove excess oil. They are usually served hot, and may be accompanied with both applesauce and sour cream. Hot latkes are preferable to cooled pancakes, as cooler pancakes will taste oilier.

Though bound in tradition, there are newer recipes that suggest a number of additions to the latkes. Chefs have prepared them by adding grated carrots, ginger, or a mixture of sweet and savory spices. Sweet latkes with vanilla and cinnamon make an appealing dessert. However prepared, these crunchy pancakes are a delicious connection to the past.

Latkes are a popular dish during Hanukkah.
Latkes are a popular dish during Hanukkah.

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Discussion Comments


@snowywinter: There are about 100 different varieties of cucumbers. Approximately 1/3 of them are used for pickling.

The English cucumber is usually sold wrapped in plastic to reduce the water loss. It is not usually waxed so you don’t need to peel it. The seeds are much smaller than the regular cucumber. The seeds are what make some cucumbers bitter. Since the English cucumber has tiny seeds, it is much less likely to have a bitter taste. It is also more easily digested than most cucumbers.

The downfall is that they are much more expensive than the average cucumber.


@cellmania: What are English cucumbers?


@momothree: My in-laws are Jewish and I have learned so many delicious recipes. This is a recipe for Waldorf Salad in Cucumber Cups. It’s very simple and super delicious! You will need the following ingredients:

1 apple (halved, cored, and diced in small pieces), 1 rib of celery (diced small), ¼ cup pomegranate seeds (you can also use dried cranberries), ¼ cup toasted walnuts (finely chopped), ¼ cup mayonnaise, 1 Tbsp. honey, and 2 English cucumbers.

Combine the celery, apple, walnuts, and pomegranate seeds. Combine the mayo and honey. Add that to the apple mixture. Cut the cucumbers into ½ - ¾ inch slices. Hollow out the centers with a melon baller or a paring knife leaving a layer on the bottom. Scoop small amounts of the salad into each cucumber cup. Scatter extra pomegranate seeds on the top.


What is a good appetizer to serve with a Jewish meal?

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