Being Jewish in Albuquerque, New Mexico is the closest I will ever come to being a unicorn. In a state where almost a third of the entire population identifies as Catholic, I am often met with excited interest upon identifying myself. Sometimes, I’m the first Jewish person someone has ever met. “So, do you go to Jewish… church?” (No.) “Do you celebrate Christmas?” (Of course. It’s the best!) And as a cultural Jew in a sea of Santos, Marias and Chile-ristra crosses, I feel more encouraged to share my heritage than I did before moving here.
Here in the desert (and fittingly for the Jews), I am compelled to keep our adaptive spirit alive by reviving holiday traditions that were never necessarily mandatory in my own family. Naturally, I turn to food. Chanukah, the “festival of lights” is actually lower on the totem pole in Judaism than the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, and Yom Kippur. Elevated in the US as a counterpart to Christmas, our answer to winter gifting centers around an eternal light.
A quick rundown: The Greeks had taken over the Second Temple of Jerusalem, and when a small band of Jews called Maccabees took it back, they only had enough oil to give light for a day. But God, seeing their struggle, kept the lamp lit for eight days, giving us eight days of eight candles for Chanukah. As a result, traditional Chanukah foods are fried in lots and lots of olive oil. Classics like brisket and kugel often make an appearance, but what really sets Chanukah apart are potato pancakes called latkes and jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot.
This latke recipe, if a little non-traditional, is the best I’ve ever had. It’s partially inspired by a Chanukah children’s book called “Malke’s Secret Recipe” where Malke’s neighbors set out to steal her recipe, which substitutes lighter ingredients for heavier ones (breadcrumbs for flour, scallions for onion). It’s also a tribute to my mom, who makes her latkes thin and crunchy, similar to a potato chip.
This recipe substitutes sweet potato for half of the white potato, features both yellow and green onions, and is fried to crispy perfection by keeping the pancakes somewhat flat. Serve these with a traditional applesauce topping (homemade is best) or with sour cream and scallions. You could even try creme Fraiche! Nothing beats the joy of picking up a hot, crispy latke, breaking it in half with your fingers and eating it piece by piece, long before the guests have arrived.
Makes about 12-16 medium-sized latkes
Prep time: 45 min
- Vegetable oil (canola, peanut or olive)
- 1 white potato, russet or other
- 1 large sweet potato or 2 small ones
- 2/3 to 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 3-4 scallions/green onions, ends trimmed and chopped small
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- sour cream
- extra scallions
- apple sauce
Grate potatoes into a large bowl with coarse sized grater. Add yellow onion, scallions and parsley. Mix in eggs, then add flour a little at a time, fully combining throughout the mixture. Add salt and pepper.
Heat 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in large pan until nearly smoking hot. Drop in spoonfuls of latke mixture, then flatten and shape into circles with a spoon immediately. Latkes should be about 1/2 inch thick, depending on your preference.
Let latkes fry until golden-dark brown and insides are cooked through, then remove from pan with slotted spoon or spatula. Lay on paper towels to drain. Serve hot with sour cream and more scallions for garnish, or with applesauce.
Sophie Putka is a Massachusetts transplant in love with New Mexico. She writes, makes lattes, and haunts Albuquerque eateries in search of a good bagel. She can usually be found in the kitchen trying to use up as many leftovers as possible and plotting her next adventure.