Warm, crispy and salty fried potato latkes are typically thought of as a traditional Hanukkah dish, but they’re delicious any time of year. Latkes make a great side dish for many meals and can be tailored to suit your preferences or dietary restrictions. Plus, they can be topped with a wide variety of condiments, vegetables, fruits, jams or herbs for a truly customizable dish.
Why Are Latkes Eaten at Hanukkah?
Latkes and other oil-fried foods are traditional Hanukkah dishes. This is because they serve as a reminder of when a single night’s oil lasted eight nights during the Jewish rededication of the Holy Temple 2,000 years ago. This is also why eight candles are burned in a menorah during the eight days of Hanukkah.
While it is thought that latkes were originally made from ricotta cheese, today’s latkes are virtually synonymous with potato pancakes.
What Are Latkes?
Latkes are made with shredded potatoes, flour or matzo meal, eggs and spices, which are combined into a mixture that is then formed into flat disks. These patties are pan-fried until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. They are typically served as a warm side dish with a variety of savory or sweet toppings, often including applesauce or sour cream.
While latkes typically call for shredded potatoes, some recipes use pureed potatoes, forming a more traditional pancake, versus the fritter-style shredded potato latke.
What’s the Difference Between Potato Pancakes and Latkes?
Potato pancakes are always made from their namesake ingredient, potatoes. While today latkes are customarily made from potatoes, latkes have long been made with different ingredients that were available in abundance at the time: Originally cheese, then turnips and other root vegetables, and even buckwheat. Simply put, all potato pancakes could be considered latkes, but not all latkes are potato pancakes.
What to Serve with Latkes
Latkes make a great side dish to serve with chicken, fish, steak or other proteins. Depending on what you serve them with, toppings can range from savory to sweet. Consider honey or agave nectar if traditional applesauce isn’t your thing. Or forgo the sour cream and instead top with a dollop of crème fraîche, yogurt, hummus or ricotta (bonus points for using this throwback to the latke’s beginnings). Slices of pear, wedges of figs or grapes add a tasty and elegant presentation. And a sprig of fresh herbs is always a nice touch — think cilantro, rosemary or dill, and pair thoughtfully with the other flavor combinations you’re serving.
DIY Latke Bar
Whether you’re serving latkes during Hanukkah or any other time of year, a DIY latke bar is a fun way to present these crave-able potato pancakes for gatherings. Each person can mix and match their own toppings from an assortment of traditional as well as imaginative offerings. Here are some ideas to inspire your latke-topping creativity: