Latkes or hash browns?

One of the Jewish traditions I grew up with was the making, and eating, of potato latkes during Hanukkah. It was an extended family affair, with all of us pitching in. One of us would peel the potatoes while another would (tearfully) tend to the onions. An adult would do the actual cooking. All of us would participate in scarfing them down.
I was going to make potato latkes this Hanukkah, but it slipped my mind and I didn’t end up making them until after Hanukkah. After many tears (from the onions) and some grating, mixing, mashing and frying, I had myself some tasty latkes. Some of them even posed for me:

There was no Virgin Mary in my latkes, but this one does look a bit like a burning bush

I had forgotten to add eggs. According to some authorities, latkes without eggs are basically hash browns. Others say that, as long as there is a cohesive pancake, it can be considered a latke. I wanted to cover all my bases, so the next day I added some eggs.

I had let the batter sit overnight. A big no-no as they oxidize. I also may have added too many eggs (3 to the already half used-up batter).

Potato latkes are good with sour cream or apple sauce or both. Like any ethnic food, the appeal extends far beyond its taste or texture; there’s also heritage and nostalgia.
Here’s how I made my first batch:
I grated about ten medium/small potatoes and two fairly large onions. Mixed them together with about one cup of  all-purpose baking mix and about a cup of matzo meal. Added some salt and pepper and then deep-fried the patties until they were brown as shown above. You can vary the amount of onions to suit your taste and you can use plain flour instead of baking mix. I was never a fan of exact recipes; I just add ingredients as I see fit at the time.
By adding eggs to the second batch, their identity crisis seems to have been solved. Now they know they’re latkes and not hash browns. But are they good latkes? I’ll continue to work on that and report my progress.

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32 Responses to Latkes or hash browns?

  1. They look good. If they don’t taste good they are missing some salt, pepper and the you might be using a junky oil for frying.

  2. LBD says:

    Jay, this subject is more important than you may think. I’ve been married nearly thirty years, and the only really big fight my husband and I have had, early in our marriage–slamming doors, screaming, throwing dishes and smashing them into walls–was about how to make the latkes!*
    It’s easy if you remember 3-2-1. Three medium potatoes, two eggs, one large onion. I use matzo meal instead of flour, and not too much. I drain the liquid a bit before adding the matzo meal if the batter is too moist. Make sure the oil (I use peanut) is very hot before dropping the tablespoon full of batter into the pan (your latkes look kind of gigantic–a smaller latke will be crisper on the outside).
    *Why such a donnybrook over latkes? I grew up on the Lower East Side of New York, hubby is from a kibbutz. He was pulling Jewish rank on me, by saying the “hash browns” were the way to go and he knew better because he’s Israeli. Of course the kibbutzim had communal kitchens and nobody cared about the quality of the cuisine, it wasn’t “home cooking”. I, on the other hand, grew up with Ashkenazi refugees and all the best delis and home cooks in the Jewish world. If he had challenged me on hummous or felafel, different story, but he was in my wheelhouse as he learned to his regret. 🙂

    • jewamongyou says:

      As important as latkes are, I would say shalom bayith (peace in the house) is more important, LOL. Thanks for the advice and I’ll follow up on it.

      • LBD says:

        There’s plenty of shalom in our bayit now, for the past twenty nine years plus. Sometimes you just have to go nuclear to establish the ground rules first, settle the big issues and avoid decades of low-level grinding on one another 🙂

  3. Blog Raju says:

    I never heard of latkes, but I will make one and let you know if I like it.

  4. idebenone says:

    Well, you’re kind of close to the family recipe. Try this and see how it compares:3 baking potatoes (grated)1 good size onion (grated)2 eggs (beaten)2 – 3 Tbs matzo meal to hold everything togetherSalt and Pepper to taste.This batter can be made in a food processor using the grating blade and then the regular cutting blade to mix it all together. Even better if you hand grate the potatoes and onion.You can hold them for a while as you describe, but they are so much better if they’re eaten as soon as they come out of the pan. I use them basically as an appetizer. The vultures generally hang around the stove to get them immediately. It’s a lot of fun. Then you just have dinner without a starch.

  5. countenance says:

    How are latkes different from potato pancakes? They seem a lot alike but there have to be differences.

  6. rjp says:

    I have had latkes once, they were horrible, they looked very similar to your first picture, but it could have been the cook. They tasted very overcooked to me, just to the edge of being actually burnt. I think remember correctly they served with refrigerator cold apple sauce and I was wishing for a bottle of ketchup …. or cheese.

    • jewamongyou says:

      I dunno. If you don’t like latkes you must be an anti-semite. It starts with disliking latkes and then you might criticize Israel and… next thing ya know you’re building gas chambers. (kidding of course).

  7. WMarkW says:

    Seeing as potatoes are a New World crop, it would be interesting to learn how they became a traditional Jewish dish.

  8. sestamibi says:

    One important step you left out: after you grate the potatoes, squeeze all the liquid out. Otherwise your latkes will fall apart in the frying pan.

    • jewamongyou says:

      I didn’t do that and they didn’t fall apart. Maybe because of all the matzo meal etc. I’d put in.

      • sestamibi says:

        Yes, that will work too. It’s a matter of personal preference. If you like a crunchier latke, more matzo meal is in order. If you like them smoother, then squeeze out the liquid and maybe add another egg.

  9. Zippy says:

    I don’t know if it’s the heritage thing, though. I’m not Jewish, and I love, love, love potato latkes. OK, I also like smoked salmon, so maybe I am Jewish.
    Wait a second — had bacon-wrapped scallops for dinner last night. Ixne on the Jewish thing. I like pig meat too much. And cheeseburgers.

  10. You could have bought frozen latkes

  11. destructure says:

    Don’t listen to that guy. He has no idea what tradition means. You know as well as I do that frozen latkes is wrong. But I hate to see you suffer. So I’m going to tell you the ONLY way to keep from having onion tears. On one condition– you have to think nice things about me when you make your latkes. Put your onions in the freezer. They don’t have to be frozen. Just really, really cold. Maybe 10 to 20 minutes? I’m not sure because I’ve never timed it. But if you still have tears then go longer because this works 100%.
    Also, Ozersky had a video on how to make old school latkes last year.
    Latkes are similar to Southern potato cakes. The main difference is mashed potatoes vs grated. So it probably has a much different texture. I’ve thought about making latkes to see the difference.

  12. Justthisguy says:

    Oh, you Jews always overthink everything! If it turns out reasonably edible, I’ll eat it. Of course, I’m the kind of lonesome old bachelor who feeds on cold chili right out of the can.

    • Justthisguy says:

      P.s. One of the best food experiences I ever had was when the local synagogue had an open house. I put the little round hat on my head and entered into gastronomic heaven. Yes, knishes are delicious.

      • jewamongyou says:

        I haven’t had much experience with knishes, but I tried some as a teenager and found them too heavy and filling. They’re probably not all like that though.

      • LBD says:

        Ah, knishes! When I was a kid, they were sold from a cart in front of the school in the winter, manned by an old guy with a perpetually dripping nose in a baggy raincoat. It was both a lunch and a hand warmer for fifteen cents. Fragrant salt and pepper seasoned mashed potato wrapped in a flaky pastry. Dense and filling, great for a frosty afternoon but not exactly a summer delight.

  13. EW says:

    Interesting. Various versions of potato pancakes were made especially in the poor rural mountainous regions in Czechia – definitely not only a Jewish dish. We did them from grated potatoes (yes, in case of the less floury ones squeeze the liquid out), then eggs, flour, garlic (not obligatory), ground pepper and marjoram were added, sometimes also a bit of milk. No onion, though.
    And the sooner they got in the frying pan, the better, the batter tends to become more liquid and darker with time. There was also a variant “poor pancake”, where no eggs were added and it was baked on the sheet, not in the pan.

  14. This is a big off-putting to say, but, my mother was convinced that a good latke batter had to have at least one, but no more than two, drops of blood in the mix. Blood, you ask? Yes. Mom always managed to bark a knuckle on the grater when doing up the onions. :-{)}

  15. jewamongyou says:

    Re: Friendly Grizzly,
    Hardy har har!

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