Like other marvelous foods of Chanukah, including one of my personal favorites, the wonderful filled doughnut, pampooshke (пампушки), latekes/deruny are fried in hot oil. The essence of the holiday, the oil represents the purification of the holy Temple of Jerusalem in the 2nd century BC/BCE. As the ancient story goes, the Maccabees, fresh from battle, could only gather a small volume of oil, just enough to light the menorah on the rededicated alter, for one night. Yet, by great miracle, the oil lasted, providing for eight consecutive evenings of light.
Latkes/deruny are typically made of potatoes, which are grated, often along with onion, thickened with flour and egg and fried (sometimes, delightfully, in chicken or goose schmaltz!) until crispy. The golden beauties are typically served with sour cream (сметана). Interestingly, I read in Joan Nathan's Jewish Cooking in America (1994), that before the arrival of potatoes to eastern Europe (which was quite a long while ago, indeed), latkes were made of buckwheat kasha (kaшa)!
For a more (or perhaps less) traditional Latke/Deruny, try this recipe:
5 or 6 good-sized potatoes, grated
1 onion, grated
1/4 to 1/2 cup green onions, chives or dill
1/3 cup matzo meal (wheat flour would do too)
Salt and Pepper
(Note: All of the quantities vary according to personal taste and preference)
First step, generously flood the bottom of a wide, heavy and deep skillet (preferably) or large pot with fat or oil. You want enough to adequately “float” the latkes. And, remember, the pancakes will absorb oil as they fry and you always need a tad more than you think. Then, heat the oil, over medium/high heat. It will take a few minutes and seem perhaps a bit too hot at first, but that is fine because the latkes will reduce the oil’s temperature when you drop them in.) Next, grate the potatoes and onion, then, try to squeeze out all of the additional moisture, using a towel. This will ensure a crispy latke. Then, mix in the eggs, flour, herbs and season with salt and pepper. Form into small patties, using a good 2 or 3 tablespoons of batter, flattening them to desired thinness (I desire a thin latke, myself). Finally, the frying! Carefully, carefully, lower the cakes into the hot oil, smashing them down a bit with a spatula. Monitor the latkes closely, make sure they do not stick to the bottom of the skillet. Once the sides turn golden, flip them and brown the other side. Pull them and drain on a towel/paper towel, while you cook the remaining latkes. Serve with sour cream and enjoy!
Recipe adapted from Joan Nathan's Classic Latkes, drawing on personal potato pancake practicum, observation in the western Ukrainian kitchen of expert deruny maker Halya Stryamets and consultation with several other friends. Photo taken by Linda Norris.