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Griffin to Go: Get to the Root of Good Latkes

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Latkes with horseradish sour cream.

Hanukkah begins this evening. That means one thing for food lovers: latkes.

Recent tradition, well, from the last few hundred years or so, would have us believe that latkes should be made with potatoes. Yet about two millennia separated the first Hanukkah and the introduction of the potato to the Old World, so Judah and the rest of the Maccabee tribe would not have had a spud to fry while their one day’s oil supply burned for a miraculous eight days.

So, you can use whatever root vegetables you like in your latkes, such as turnips or parsnips, rutabagas or carrots. And toss in a few others for good measure. Even shredded apple or pear would be good added to rutabga, parsnip or, yes, potato with a little onion.

I recently set up a latke bar with a number of shredded vegetables, including daikon radish, turnips, zucchini, golden beets and red onion, so I could mix the flavors I wanted.

But not everything went as planned.

I first started with a vegan approach, using a combination of water and flaxseed mill as a binder. Only trouble was, it didn’t bind. The moment the latkes hit the oil, they fell apart.

So, I reverted to egg to bind the cakes, but my frying skills — used primarily around Hanukkah each year — are a bit rusty and the subsequent cakes turned out much darker than I had hoped. I burned the first batch, but the remaining batches were darker than I would have liked.

But the look of a food isn’t as important as the flavor, and these tasted just fine. The beets, the turnips  and the onions all provided a natural sweetness, while the radish offered a pungent flavor that went well with the horseradish cream sauce that went with the cakes.

So, if you’re celebrating the Festival of Lights for the next eight nights, give your traditional latke a little variation and enjoy.


Oil for frying
5-6 cups shredded vegetables, such as daikon, turnip, potato, zucchini or beet
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3-4 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons flour
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

You can use zucchini, golden beets, turnips or more in latkes, if you choose.

In a skillet, heat a generous layer of oil over high heat until it is good and hot.

Mix shredded vegetables, onion, egg, flour, salt and pepper together. Drop heaping spoonfuls into the hot oil. Reduce heat to medium high. Press down the vegetables slightly. Turn the cakes when the bottoms appear brown. When the cakes are done, remove them from the oil to a paper towel-lined plate. Add more oil if needed and continue to fry the remaining vegetable mix.

Serve with sour cream, with or without horseradish stirred in, or applesauce.

Makes about 15 latkes, though the number could vary depending on size.

From John Griffin

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