How to Make Perfect Latkes your bubbie would love! Tips and tricks to make classic crisp latkes, plus a spiced cardamom applesauce to go with them. These easy potato pancakes are a winter tradition.
Now that I’ve learned how to make the perfect latkes I can’t stop!
Since I discovered the secret to light and crispy potato fritters I make them all year long. They’re so much better than hash browns, and who wouldn’t love a little stack of super crunchy latkes with their dinner? One thing I love to do every year is come up with a creative new topping for my latkes. This year I made a cardamom applesauce that was uber simple but really lovely. Of course I always serve them with sour cream, that’s non-negotiable.
What are latkes and why are they eaten at Hanukkah?
Latkes are delicious fried potato pancakes, or fritters, made from shredded potatoes and onions. Egg and a little matzoh meal (or bread crumbs) help to keep the mixture together as they’re fried in cast iron skillets or griddles on the stovetop. Latkes have been around a long time as cheap peasant food in Eastern European countries.
Latkes are also part of the traditional Hanukkah celebration. Because they’re fried in oil, they symbolize the miracle of the oil that burned for 8 nights in the holy temple.
The best potatoes to use for latkes ~
The best kind of potato to use for latkes are starchy potatoes, like russets, aka baking potatoes. The extra starch helps bind the potato pancakes together. Russets have a fluffy texture when cooked, which results in a lighter latke.
The best way to grate your potatoes for latkes
- I find the best way to grate potatoes is to use a food processor fitted with a shredding blade. It does the quickest, neatest job, and I think the size of the shreds is perfect.
- You can also use either a mandoline, or a box grater, but I think the mandoline makes the shreds too thick, and the box grater makes them too fine.
- You can peel your potatoes, or leave the peel on (well scrubbed) it’s up to you.
How to keep grated potatoes from turning brown
There’s nothing worse than grating your potatoes only to find them turning almost immediately a brownish gray. This happens because they oxidize when they come in contact with air. Luckily there’s an easy solution…
- Immediately after grating (and I mean immediately) cover the potatoes with cold water. Let them sit in the water, completely submersed, until you’re ready to proceed with your recipe. You can even do this the night before, just keep them submersed in water, in the fridge.
- As an added precaution you can add a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to the water. The acid will keep the potatoes snowy white.
What other vegetables can be used to make latkes?
Lots of other veggies can be used to make latkes, dense root veggies are ideal. You can mix and match, or use them singly. Here are some ideas ~
- sweet potatoes
- onion (sweet onions are especially good)
- green onions
- butternut squash
How to make crispy latkes ~
A great latke is super golden and crispy on the outside, tender and soft inside. Here are my simple tips for achieving that perfect balance…
- Get your shredded veggies as dry as possible by letting them drain over a colander, and/or gently squeezing them in a clean kitchen towel. The less water, the crispier your latkes will be!
- Your latkes should be flat, not puffed or mounded. The more surface area there is, the crispier they will be. That also gives the raw potato a better chance of getting fully cooked.
- Make sure your oil is nice and hot before frying, I always like to do a small test: the oil should sizzle immediately when a bit of potato is dropped in.
- Reheat leftover latkes in the oven, not the microwave.
The best oil to use for potato pancakes
Whatever oil you use, get it about 1/4 inch deep, and add more as needed. Be sure to clear away any loose potato bits between batches, they will burn and make the oil bitter.
- Use a mild oil with a high smoke point, I use canola. Peanut oil is another good choice.
- Latkes were traditionally fried in schmaltz, or chicken fat, which gives them incredible flavor. Chicken fat is becoming more available due to the popularity of high fat keto diets. You can find it on Amazon, or check your supermarket.
What to eat with latkes ~
Latkes are great for breakfast, or as a side dish with smoked fish, salmon, chicken, steak, or brisket. However you choose to serve them, they always benefit from toppings. Applesauce and sour cream are traditional, but there are other creative options. I serve my zucchini latkes, in the photo below, with a maple cranberry sauce.
- sour cream with chives or dill
- apple sauce or apple butter
- horseradish sauce or creamed horseradish
- cranberry sauce
- crème fraîche
- cranberry relish with horseradish and sour cream
How to make latkes special-diet friendly ~
Most traditional latke recipes are naturally vegetarian and dairy free (assuming you don’t serve them with sour cream!), but they are versatile enough to accommodate all sorts of diets.
- To make gluten free latkes ~ simply use your favorite gluten free flour or bread crumbs in place of wheat flour or crumbs in your latke recipe. This recipe from Gluten Free Baking uses rice flour. You might also try ground almonds or even a little instant mashed potatoes.
- To make vegan latkes ~ you’ll need replace the egg. This recipe from Lazy Cat Kitchen uses aquafaba in place of eggs, and even includes instructions to make a vegan sour cream substitute!
- To make paleo latkes ~ swap out the starchy potato for a more paleo-friendly root vegetable like sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, onion, etc., and make sure to use a gluten-free, paleo flour. This recipe from A Calculated Whisk uses sweet potatoes and a dairy-free ‘sour cream’ sauce.
- To make low carb or keto-friendly latkes ~ instead of potatoes, which are high in carbohydrates and starch, use vegetables like zucchini, onion, or cauliflower.
My latke and fritter recipes ~
- Sweet Onion Latkes with Chive Sour Cream
- Beet Latkes with Horseradish Crème Fraîche
- Golden Beet and Leek Fritters
- Zucchini Latkes with Maple Cranberry Sauce
How to Make Latkes
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 1/2 lb russet potatoes, this is about 2-3 large, but be sure to weigh them
- 1/2 yellow onion
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 3 Tbsp Matzo meal (you can also use breadcrumbs)
- 1 tsp salt
- fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- vegetable oil for frying
- fresh chives, snipped
- sour cream for serving
cardamom apple sauce
- 1 cup applesauce
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
- Fill a large bowl with cold water and add the lemon juice.
- Peel and cut the potatoes in quarters. Shred them in a food processor fitted with the shredding blade. You can also do this with a box grater if you need to. Immediately put the grated potatoes into the cold water to stop them from browning.
- Grate the onions but don't put them in the water. Gather the potatoes and onions into a clean kitchen towel and wring out the excess moisture. Take the time to get out as much liquid as you can. Discard the liquid and put the potatoes and onions into a mixing bowl.
- Using your hands, gently toss the potatoes and onions with the egg, matzo meal, salt, and pepper. Make sure everything gets well mixed.
- Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a large cast iron skillet until hot. You'll know it's ready when a bit of potato sizzles on contact with the oil. Scoop out 1/4 cup of the potato mixture (I used an ice cream scoop) and gently pat down to a flat round shape. Don't worry if some of the potato shreds spray out from the sides, that's a good thing! Gently ease the latke into the hot oil and fry for about 4 minutes on each side, until golden and crispy. Add more oil as necessary, and remove any bloose bits from the oil so they don't burn.You may need to do a test latke to make sure you've got the right temperature.
- Drain the latkes on paper towels, and keep warm in a low oven if necessary.
- Serve showered with snipped chives, along with cardamom applesauce and sour cream.
cardamom apple sauce
- Mix the applesauce with the caramom and adjust the amount of spice to your taste.