In Hannukah parlance, a miracle is something small stretched large. Squeezed for resources following their military travails in the second century B.C., the Maccabeans had only a single-day crock of oil with which to rededicate the Second Temple of Jerusalem. But somehow, that oil kept the candles burning for eight long nights.
But in the kitchen, where the realization that you’re low on olive oil comes only after you’re knuckle-deep in yolky starch, miracles don’t come easy.
If there’s an appetizer worthy of such worry, it certainly isn’t the humble latke—a traditional holiday fritter that is both exceptionally simple and infinitely hackable. All you need to do is understand its inner workings.
To prove this, I built @everylatke, a bot that will tweet out a randomly generated latke recipe every hour over the duration of Hannukah (go ahead and follow, it doesn’t bite). Using data from countless recipes as well as intelligence supplied by Liz Neumark, head of New York’s annual Latke Festival (who, as her pedigree suggests, knows her latkes), I developed a simple formula for latke perfection that serves as the the bot’s backbone. None of these recipes have been tested, but no matter — by the end of this post you will have the tools to generate your own perfect potato patty, and have a feel for when you may need to autocorrect.
If a bot barely hours old can do it, certainly you can too. Bear with me, and together we’ll stretch both your pantries and your imaginations. I think you’ll find that the miracle was inside you all along.
At minimum, all you need is something to base your latkes around, some glue to hold it all together, and a fat to fry it in. After that, the sky’s the limit.
~1.5 lb vegetables
- If you’re feeling more inventive, or just want to purge your pantry, anything goes. Shred cabbage, brussels sprouts, apples, celeriac, or carrots. For veggies with a higher water content, such as eggplant or zucchini, salt them after shredding, leave them for 10 minutes to sweat, and drain the excess liquid. Alternatively, roast and dice a butternut squash. Dice, steam, and mash cauliflower. Blanch, drain, and chop greens. Mix and match. Feel free to add some cooked grain too — farro, millet, quinoa — up to half of your portion of vegetables.
- To go vegan, swap out your eggs for egg substitute. And if you’re desperate, you can do just fine with some apple sauce, cooked oats, or a drop of non-dairy milk. Just make sure your patties hold together and I promise everything will be ok.
- Some people swear by matzo meal, others by potato starch, others still by bread crumbs. Pure starches are, unsurprisingly, starchier than flour, so they’ll give you a better crisp. But don’t make an extra shopping trip for this — a sprinkling of white flour will do just fine. Chickpea flour is another great gluten-free option. Add a teaspoon of baking powder to give it some rise.
- If you find that your first few latkes are falling apart when you take them off the pan, adjust your binding agents a bit until it holds better.
- This is a little-known fact, but before they came to potato-obsessed Eastern Europe in the 19th century, latkes were built on a base of ricotta cheese, inspired by a similar Italian pancake. So shamelessly sprinkle your ricottas, your parmesans, your fetas, your cheddar and goat cheeses, and call it an homage.
No offense to apple sauce and sour cream, but the latke topping deserves an upgrade. Here are some suggestions from Neumark—along with some recipes from across the web that made me look.
- Horseradish cream cheese
- Pickled Carrot & Tzatziki Sauce
- Smoked Goat Cheese Creme & Sage Oil
- Apple Chutney
- Ginger-Infused Creme Fraiche & Spearmint
- Chickpea salsa
- Pear, lime & cardamom sauce
- Curry-lime yogurt
- Pomegranate seeds, honey, rosemary & sea salt