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Wednesday 12 December 2012

Sluttishly Sweet & Savoury: Potato Latkes

So, in amongst all this Christmas madness, I am celebrating Hanukkah. For EIGHT DAYS. A nice diversion, non? Hanukkah is my most favourite of all the Jewish holidays. Did I mention it lasts for EIGHT DAYS? Oh. Right. It also combines a number of my favourite things: candles, gelt (sometimes real, sometimes chocolate - it's a win-win situation), fried foods, dreidels, presents, and potatoes. And, y'know, miracles and all that jazz.

Pfft. Miracle, schmiracle. Back to potatoes - specifically, latkes. These potato pancakes, crispy on the outside, soft and delicious on the inside, are the main event at every Jewish table this week. Apple sauce and sour cream are the most popular accompaniments, but the Jew-jury is out - and always will be - on whether you should chomp your latke with a dollop of both together, or choose just one. So are they sweet, or are they savoury? Well, they contain onion, so we could argue that they're savoury.

However! I've lovingly crafted two versions - one savoury, with dill sour cream and a dollop of caviar on top, and one resolutely sweet, despite the onion, with a sugar and cinnamon coating and served up with apricot and apple sauce, and maple syrup sour cream. Both use the same basic recipe - it's the additions and accompaniments that pledge taste bud allegiance here.

I've added dill and caviar to the usually plain sour cream topping as a nod to my family's Georgian roots (as in ex-USSR Georgia, not USA, thank you very much). And that's why I've added apricots to the apple sauce, too - Georgians are big on apricots (Mama B craved them when she was pregnant with me). But, hell - do what you want! Eat them plain, eat them sprinkled with salt, dip them in your blimmin' hot chocolate and SEE IF I CARE. If in doubt, pile your latkes high with melted cheese. Cheese trumps everything.

Potato Latkes (makes about 20)

You'll need:

For basic latkes
  • 4 or 5 large floury potatoes (Americans swear by Russet potatoes; Maris Piper is probably the closest equivalent here), peeled and shredded - use a mandolin or food processor.
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and shredded
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice (bottled is fine)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil for frying
For the savoury version
  • 1 heaped tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped, plus extra to garnish
  • 6 tbsp sour cream
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp salt, plus extra to serve
  • Caviar to serve (Sainsbury's sell a cheapo version, but you could crack open the family Beluga if you like. KIDDING.)
For the sweet version
  • 5 medium-sized apples, any variety (I used Granny Smiths), peeled, cored, and roughly cut into chunks
  • 8 tbsp chopped dried apricots
  • 175ml water
  • 100g soft brown sugar
  • 6-10 cloves (COUNT THEM. You have to fish them out again at the end)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 4 tbsp sour cream
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup or golden syrup
  • Ground cinnamon to serve
  • Icing sugar to serve
Make it!

Basic Latkes
  1. As soon as you've shredded your potatoes, use kitchen roll or a clean, dry tea towel to absorb any excess moisture. Work fast, as the potatoes are changing colour as we speak. Not in a good, Global Hypercolour way. Now bung them in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add the onion, lemon juice, salt and pepper, baking powder and eggs and stir it all up. Meanwhile, heat about half a centimetre of oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan (I use a cast-iron pan - get one mega-cheap in Home Bargains. YES!)
  3. Once the oil is hot enough but not too hot (Whaddya mean that's too vague? Oh, all right - chuck a matchstick of shredded potato in there. If it sizzles, it's the right temperature), add a heaped tablespoon of the potato mixture into the pan. Press down with a spatula so that it's sort of flattened. Fry on one side for 3-5 minutes, then flip and do the same on the other side. Once done, remove from the pan and drain on a wad of kitchen roll. Treat the first latke as The Test Latke. Eat it (let it cool down first, you wally). Delicious, yes? Later, once you've made them all, you'll realise that The Test Latke was the most handsome of all your latkes, and you could've done with it in the photographs and not in your tummy. Oh, wait. You're not me.
  4. Now proceed with full-scale latke-making. Feel free to put lots in the pan at once, as long as they comfortably fit. As you go along, crispy bits of potato will start swimming around in the oil. I leave these in for extra flavour, but when they start to burn, skim the oil for them. 
  5. Now decide if you want sweet latkes, savoury latkes, or both.
Dill sour cream and caviar for savoury latkes
  1. Mix the sour cream and chopped dill together, adding the lemon juice and salt and stirring well.
  2. Serve atop your freshly-made latkes (sprinkle them with a little salt first), with a spoonful of caviar to taste. As you can see from the photos, my taste is lots - I shovelled it on like there's no tomorrow. Maybe there isn't. Garnish with a poncy frond of dill.
Apricot & apple sauce and maple syrup sour cream for sweet latkes
  1. Put all the ingredients bar the lemon juice into a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, then simmer - covered - for 8-10 minutes, until the fruit is soft.
  2. Stir vigorously, mushing up the apples as you go. Add the lemon juice, and bring the pan off the heat.
  3. Poke about and remove the cloves, star anise, and cinnamon stick. This is why you counted the cloves earlier.
  4. Mix together the syrup and sour cream.
  5. Sprinkle the latkes with cinnamon and icing sugar. Serve warm, with the sauce and sour cream.
And do you want to know what I was doing in between making these latkes?

Putting up my Christmas tree. I know, I know. Let's just call it a Hanukkah bush, shall we? Look, I've got Star of David tinsel AND EVERYTHING. 

Chag Urim Sameach, everyone! 


  1. We regularly top ours with either lime pickle or chilli sauce. And I am far from sick of nomming them...

    1. Yum yum yum - I'll try these toppings on mine. I love lime pickle.


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