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Oh Hanukkah, how I love thee.
While Hanukkah is not considered one of the holiest of holidays in the Jewish faith, it is still an important holiday no less. Plus, it’s fun.
Kids love lighting the menorah, singing songs, spinning the dreidel (which is only about two minutes of fun) and eating lots of latkes.
We even have a song called, “Lots of Latkes” that I can’t help from singing when latkes are in the house.
“Lots of latkes, lots of latkes, lots of latkes… let’s all eat ’em up!”
That’s about all I know of the song. It’s catchy, ain’t it?
This year I decided to make latkes for my family and post my recipe. I’m always going to others for Hanukkah, so this year, I was determined to make my adjusted gluten-free latke recipe and get it up here for all of you to enjoy too.
The truth is, making gluten-free latkes isn’t unlike making regular latkes. The only difference is what flour you use as your binder. More on that in a bit…
What is a Latke?
A latke is a traditional potato pancake cooked in oil – and I mean lots of oil – and eaten during Hanukkah by Jewish people. A latke is similar to hashbrowns, however, hashbrowns are typically made solely from shredded potatoes while latkes are made from potatoes, onions and a binder, which typically consists of eggs and flour.
The latke is then fried in oil, as are most Hanukkah foods, to symbolize the miracle of the oil.
Hanukkah is the celebration of the Jews victory over tyrant Syrian-Greek rule, a period of rule that forbid many Jewish practices. At the time, Jews were forbidden to observe Shabbat, circumcision, and Torah study, the foundations of Judaism. At the time, many Jews assimilated to Greek culture and even began to intermarry. Many experts believe this began decay of the foundations of Jewish life and the Jewish people.
However, Jewish rebels (known as the Macabees) fought for three years for their rights to practice Judaism. They were eventually victorious (a miracle in itself!) and that is when they reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Once they restored and cleaned up the desecrated Temple, they could only find a small bit of oil to light the menorah during the rededication. The oil should have only lasted for one day, but the miracle of Hanukkah is that the oil lasted for eight days, allowing enough time for the Jews to find more oil and keep the eternal flame lit.
Hanukkah is the celebration of the Jewish people – the right for the Jews to survive despite great forces (like the Greeks) trying to destroy them. You don’t have to look too far to see how other great forces today – antisemitism and assimilation – are destroying the foundations of Judaism.
So as most Jews do, we eat to celebrate our once again, against-all-odds survival. And on Hanukkah, we eat foods cooked in oil to remind us of the miracle of the oil long ago. (We also eat sufganiyot or jelly doughnuts fried in oil. Get my gluten-free sufganiyot recipe.)
How to Make Gluten-Free Latkes
Now that you know the roots of a latke (and why Jews celebrate Hanukkah), you’re ready to make your own latkes at home.
Making a gluten-free latke is similar to making a regular latke. The main difference is you need to swap gluten-free flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Gluten-Free Flour Blend) for regular wheat flour. Easy, right?
There are many latke recipes abound, but the one I make is a good one. You could say it’s tried and true. I know if you follow this recipe, you’ll have a wonderful, crispy and tasty Hanukkah latke of your own.
The first thing you want to do is prepare all your ingredients. Wash your potatoes and onion and get all the ingredients ready to go. You want to move fast to avoid browning of your potatoes (they begin to brown once exposed to air). Have two big bowls ready for use, too.
Using your food processor, shred your potatoes and onion. Working in batches and using your hands, a cheese cloth, or a very thin produce bag (what I use), squeeze the liquid from the mixture and reserve it in a separate bowl. Use your muscles to squeeze as hard as possible to get as much excess liquid out of the mixture. Place the potato-onion mixture in a separate, clean bowl.
Now take a look at the bowl with the reserved liquid. If you pour out and discard the top of the mixture, you’ll see some white starchy liquid left behind. This is the potato starch that separated from the liquid. It works as a great binder to your latkes and will make them crispier, too. Use a silicone scraper tool to gather up the potato starch and add it back into your potato-onion mixture. This step is completely optional.
Next, add all your ingredients into your potato-onion mixture (the flour, eggs, baking powder and salt) and mix well.
Now for the fun part!
Heat a generous layer of oil in a heavy bottom frying pan or in a stand alone electric skillet on your countertop. I like to use my electric skillet to avoid making a huge mess on my cooktop. A lot of my friends will lay down newspapers under the skillet for easy clean up.
The oil you choose is important. A lot of Hanukkah historians say that olive oil was used to light the original menorah, however, olive oil does not have a high smoke point and you need that oil hot hot hot! When you heat olive oil above a certain temperature, it turns into a carcinogen.
I recommend using an oil with a high smoke point. I personally use avocado oil for a healthier option, but you could also use canola oil. Learn more about cooking oils and smoke point in my article title, Everything You Need to Know About Healthy & Gluten-Free Cooking Oils.
Once the oil is hot (you can test it by putting one shred of potato into the oil and seeing if it sizzles), add your latkes to the pan. Latkes are traditionally round, so place a heap and flatten with your spatula to get that round shape.
Some people like their latkes thicker while other like them thinner. Adjust the size to your taste.
Work the latkes in batches (do not overcrowd in your pan) and flip after 2-3 minutes or until they’re nice and browned but not burned. Remove from oil and place on paper towel-lined plate to drain excess oil.
Latkes are traditionally topped with sour cream (not something I like) or applesauce (something I love).
Serve immediately (as they are crispy right out of the fryer). They do not hold their crisp well when stored and reheated. If you must store them and reheat them, I recommend reheating them on a sheet pan with a wire rack.
Gluten-Free Latke Recipe
As you can see, making a gluten-free latke recipe is not unlike making a regular latke recipe. With a few simple swaps, you have a gluten-free Hanukkah miracle of your own to celebrate.
Hanukkah starts at sundown on December 2, 2018.
Happy Hanukkah to all!
- Scrub potatoes and onion, then shred them using food processor or manually using a grater.
- Wring out as much liquid as possible, reserving liquid in a separate bowl. Work batter in batches. Use a cheesecloth or thin produce bag to help you wring out excess liquid. Add potato-onion mixture to a seperate bowl and set aside.
- Dispose of liquid in your sink, however, reserve the bottom white starch left behind. Add the starch back into your potato-onion mixture.
- Add eggs, flour, salt, baking powder and pepper to potato-onion mixture and mix well.
- Heat a generous layer of oil in a heavy-bottom pan or electric skillet. The oil is hot when you put a single potato strand into the oil and it sizzles. Add latkes by the spoonful (to desired size and thickness) to skillet or pan, careful not to overcrowd.
- Cook on each side for 2-3 minutes until browned, then flip to brown on other side. Remove latkes to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat process until all batter is cooked, adding more oil as needed.
- Serve latkes immediate with applesauce and/or sour cream.