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Cooking an iconic Hanukkah meal | Messages from the Mitten

One of the best aspects of any celebration is the meals, but people unfamiliar with Hanukkah might not realize how symbolically important food is for this Jewish holiday.

There are a lot of dishes that come to mind like brisket and matzo ball soup; however, the humble latke is especially iconic. It’s a potato pancake, and odds are good you already have the ingredients for them in your house right now.

Latkes are a family tradition

I married into a Jewish family, so I know the perfect person to show us how to make latkes: my wife’s grandmother.

Lana Karbel Hough grew up in a Jewish community in the Detroit area. As a great-grandma, she now goes by the name of Bubbie.

The origins of Hanukkah

The holiday commemorates when thousands of years ago, a group of Jewish warriors known as the Maccabees reclaimed a stolen temple in Jerusalem from their oppressors. But there was a problem, there was only enough pure oil in the temple to light their lamp for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight.

“So now, we celebrate this Hanukkah miracle by lighting a menorah each night for eight nights, singing Hanukkah songs and dancing, playing games with a dreidel and making latkes, a traditional Hanukkah food that is fried in oil,” Bubbie explained.

Making latkes

The ingredients are simple and straightforward.

“To make potato latkes, you need potatoes, onions, egg, a little bit of flour, oil and a little bit of salt and pepper.”

Bubbie says a lot of recipes call for grating the potatoes but for the sake of ease, we’re using a blender this time.

The first thing you’ll want to do is peel the potatoes and cut them up into pieces. Then, blend the potatoes and the onions and a couple of eggs.

As you do your chopping and blending, fill a pan with oil and set to high heat.

Once everything’s blended, transfer your mixture to a big bowl. Add salt, pepper and flour — Bubbie says matzo meal works even better if you have it — then stir with a spoon until evenly mixed, and at this point, the oil should be hot enough to cook your latkes.

Because this recipe uses a blender, Bubbie uses a slotted spoon when scooping the mix into the pan to drain as much excess liquid as possible before cooking.

If you’ve ever made pancakes before, the rest should be pretty straightforward.


Karel Vega

Cook your latkas as you would regular pancakes.

“You just cook them, so they’re brown around the edges, flip them over and cook on the other side. And they begin to smell pretty good after a few minutes, and then you know you have a traditional Hanukkah meal cooking.”


Karel Vega

As you take your latkes off the pan, be ready to rest them on paper towel to soak up excess oil.

As your latkes are coming off the pan, be ready with a paper towel covered plate for them to rest on.

“We want to get as much of the oil out of it as we can as they’re sitting after they’re cooked,” Bubbie said.

Once your latkes are done, a choice can be made between sweet or savory sides.

“You will use your preference either sour cream or applesauce. A lot of people like applesauce. Personally, I like sour cream,” Bubbie said.

And then it’s time to light a candle on the menorah, eat and celebrate with family.

Happy Hanukkah.