The golden, crispy potato latke is so unmistakably tied to Hanukkah you could easily think potatoes have some special symbolism during the Jewish festival of lights.
They don't, of course. That honor goes to the crispy fried part, which commemorates the miraculous story of a single day's worth of sacred oil that kept the eternal flame at the temple in Jerusalem burning for eight days.
In fact, many fried foods are prepared and eaten during Hanukkah, including raised jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot and crispy golden puffs of pastry called bumuelos, which originated with the Jews of Greece and Turkey.
If you are going to stick with the classic potato latke, there are a few tips you can follow to ensure they come out golden.
Laura Frankel, executive chef at Spertus, a Chicago-based high-end kosher catering company and author of "Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes," recommends using baking potatoes such as russets. They tend to have less liquid in them, so your latke will come out lighter and fluffier.
Additionally, the higher starch but lower sugar content of these potatoes, says Frankel, helps to hold the latke together and allows it to crisp without burning first.
Onions are mixed with the potatoes in most latke variations, which Frankel feels helps to cut the greasiness and balance the neutrality of the potato.
Plus, she adds, the smell of cooking onion brings with it the fond kitchen memory most people associate with making latkes.
Make sure any extra moisture gets wrung out of the potato mixture using a clean dishtowel or piece of cheesecloth. This step helps the latkes brown better, even when using less oil. It also keeps them from turning soggy and falling apart in the pan.
For binding her latke batter together Frankel uses a little flour and egg whites.
"I like really crispy latkes that are flat and only slightly creamy inside," says Frankel. "So I don't use yolks, which tend to make doughs and batters tender. Egg whites hold the ingredients together but don't make them soft or cakey."
For the frying she uses canola oil, which has a neutral flavor and can take the high heat without smoking.
Of course, no latkes are complete without the toppings, the most traditional of which are sour cream or applesauce.
But a plain potato latke makes a great base for so many kinds of toppings.
Consider serving a basic latke and a wide variety of toppings, many of which could be made ahead of time.
Laura Frankel's Latkes
•2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled
•1 large yellow onion, peeled and grated
•3 egg whites, whisked until frothy
•2 teaspoons kosher salt
•1 teaspoon ground black pepper
•1/3 to 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
•Canola oil, for frying
Shred the potatoes, placing them in a bowl of ice water (this keeps them from browning).
After shredding, drain and transfer potatoes to a large clean kitchen towel. Squeeze out moisture. Make sure potatoes are dry.
In large bowl, combine onion, egg whites, salt, pepper and 1/3 cup flour. Add potatoes and combine thoroughly. Add more flour, as necessary, to make a batter that is loose, but holds together well.
In large skillet over medium-high, heat
1/2 inch of oil until a shred of potato dropped into it sizzles immediately.
Working in batches, drop latke batter
2 tablespoons per latke) into the oil. Flatten the latkes slightly with the back of a spoon. Fry the latkes, turning once, until browned, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a platter lined with paper towels. Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve immediately. Latkes also can be reheated on a baking sheet in a 400-degree oven.
Makes 24 latkes.
Nutrition information per latke (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 54 calories; 11 calories from fat (20 percent of total calories); 1 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 9 g carbohydrate; 2 g protein; 1 g fiber; 169 mg sodium.