Frying Latkes in Oil Is One Small Way to Express Our Judaism

A small Chanukah party, I thought. With just a few people over, I’d cook up something yummy, the house would be clean, and all would be very, very manageable.

And then my invitee asked the question.

“Are you making latkes?” Her eyes lit up. “From scratch?”


No, no. I was planning on serving latkes. But not from scratch. Definitely not from a mix. Maybe pre-bought from one of the local markets.

But she was gazing at me with such hope. As if I singlehandedly could make or break her Chanukah with my sheer latke wizardry. As if the latkes themselves would connect all of us back to our Jewish roots, as so many of us have been looking to do since Oct. 7.  Frying latkes in oil was one small – albeit for me somewhat tedious – way to express our Judaism. Even my non-practicing Catholic friend was planning to fry up a batch. How could I not do the same in my kitchen?

Then came an invite for another Chanukah party.

“Can Michael make his famous sweet potato souffle?” the host asked about my husband’s signature dish.

I laughed. “Of course! A sweet potato latke party!”

“Latkes, great!” She said. “Can you make those too?”


“You could say no,” my son, privy to my workload, said.

True. But when people open their hearts to you all year long and make a simple latke request, “I’m too busy” doesn’t cross my lips.

Besides, frying a batch of potato pancakes in oil seems trivial compared to what the Maccabees went through back in 167 BCE or so, saving the Land of Israel and Judaism itself and reclaiming the holy temple in Jerusalem from Antiochus IV. And with the Maccabees’ small jar of oil, expected to provide only enough light for one day, the oil miraculously lasted eight days.

The oil is now legendary. It’s why every year at Chanukah, Jews across the world fry up tasty treats in oil. Iraqi Jews, for instance, may go for chickpea sambusak, while Indian Jews might fry up gulab jamun. The fried potato latkes from my Eastern European roots seem almost mundane in comparison. Still, combine the salt and the carbs and yes the oil, and, mmmmm… you see why people’s eyes light up at the very notion of homemade latkes.

And I’ve made them time and again, including as a class mother when everyone did a little grating, a little mixing, a little frying. Our teamwork felt effortless, and to see kids of all denominations and nationalities come together over latkes and ask for seconds…well, sure, I could whip up a batch or two now for those nearest and dearest.

But this year, I would be taking the latke-prep on all by myself. Even though I eat low-carb for health reasons, I started thinking about the pounds of potatoes needing shredding. It was game-on, despite my lack of food processors. And the thought of hand-grating was not sitting well.

So I did what any resourceful Jew in the kitchen does these days and went to a Jewish recipe Facebook group. Sure enough, I found hacks for making latkes from frozen shredded hash brown potatoes. And the tips were spot-on. Especially the part about squeezing out the water in advance, with a dish towel as an aid. Thanks to the group, I found this recipe from The Spruce Eats.

Now, I’ve tried the frozen latke hack before, without much success. Let’s just say that night we had a pile of fried, though tasty, shredded potatoes. But this time, I took more care and followed the advice of those in the Facebook group. I let the latkes defrost overnight and started my prep around 2 p.m. so the potatoes wouldn’t get soggy. To draw out the moisture before wringing the water from the potatoes, I followed my son’s recommendation and added some salt.

The first batch was a little less cohesive than desired, so I added a little more flour.

The patties formed beautifully. And before bringing them over to the sizzling pan, I squeezed out any extra water for good measure.

Soon enough, my kitchen smelled like Chanukah, proving that even someone with very little time can deliver that essence of the festival of lights.

And the latkes?


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