Kansas-based Linda Salvay and her family celebrate Hanukkah with this modern twist on potato latkes. We spoke with her back in 2017 about Hanukkah traditions, and her recipe for sweet potato latkes that are healthier than their deep-fried alternative.
Q: What does Hanukkah mean to you, and how will your family observe it?
A: Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the holy temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks in the second century B.C.E. When the Jews entered the defiled temple to cleanse it, they discovered only a one-day supply of oil to light the great menorah (seven-branch lamp). Miraculously, that oil lasted eight days, until more could be purified.
For that reason, Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights. We celebrate for eight days by reciting blessings and lighting candles each night at sundown, singing traditional songs, playing games of dreidel (a spinning top), giving gifts and serving traditional foods.
In the hanukkiah, the special nine-candle menorah for Hanukkah, the ninth candle (shamash) is used to light the other candles. We light one the first evening, two the second night and so on, until there are eight candles burning on the last night. By tradition, we never blow them out, but let them burn all the way down.
Q: How do you celebrate Hanukkah?
A: When my daughters were young, we celebrated Hanukkah at home, lighting candles and giving small gifts, so we could pass the tradition on to our girls, just as it has been done for generations. I love the simplicity of Hanukkah, which makes it seem so authentic and enduring.
Now, we often celebrate at the home of our friends. Each family brings food to share and their hanukkiot, so the table is filled with glowing candles and looks very festive.
Q: Are foods important to your celebration?
A: You can hardly say “Jewish” without saying “food” in the same sentence. Food is an important part of our traditions and celebrations. For Hanukkah, we serve food fried in oil to commemorate the miracle of the oil in the temple rededication.
Q: What recipe will you prepare for Hanukkah?
A: Potato latkes, or pancakes, are a favorite. It is a traditional food that is common in Eastern Europe, and they are often served with applesauce or sour cream. The latkes can actually be made with other types of vegetables, and I enjoy them made of sweet potatoes for both the flavor and the nutritional benefits.
While fried foods are good, I like to avoid fried foods for health reasons, and I also want to avoid the oily residue that often coats the kitchen after frying. Baking is an easy, healthy alternative. They still use oil for flavor, but less than if they are fried.
Baked Sweet Potato Latkes
Makes about 40 latkes
Olive oil or vegetable oil, for baking
2 to 3 large sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds), grated
1 large onion, finely chopped, well drained
1/2 cup chopped green onions
3 large eggs
3/4 cup matzo meal
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper, then brush the paper liberally with oil.
Combine sweet potatoes, onion, green onion, eggs, matzo meal, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl and mix well.
Scoop the mixture into small, tightly packed handfuls, about 2 inches in diameter, and arrange on prepared baking sheets. Flatten into patties with a spatula or by hand. Brush or spray the top of the patties with additional oil, until well-coated.
Bake uncovered for 25 minutes. Flip patties, adding additional oil if needed, and bake 15 minutes or until both sides are browned and crispy. Serve warm.
▪ No need to peel the potatoes. Peel, only if desired.
▪ Sweet potato latkes freeze well. Prepare as directed, then wrap the baked latkes in aluminum foil or place in a tightly covered freezer container.
When ready to serve, thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then reheat, uncovered, on a baking sheet in the oven until hot and crispy.
Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore are cookbook authors and food consultants who make up The Electrified Cooks. They have published 11 cookbooks and thousands of recipes. They are members of Les Dames d’Escoffier and blog at pluggedintocooking.com. This story was originally published by the Kansas City Star.