Tomorrow evening is the first night of Hanukkah, which in Israel has become primarily associated, on a culinary level, with sufganiot, a type of doughnut in which dough is deep-fried and then filled with various sweet fillings. The traditional filling is strawberry jam, but in the last decade or so Israeli bakeries have entered into a veritable arms race to come up with the most elaborate, original variation on the basic concept, including ever-more exotically flavored custard fillings and fantastical toppings. Basically, this is how Israelis compensate themselves for the fact that doughnuts and cupcakes aren’t really a thing here.
In the rest of the world, however, Hanukkah is still primarily a latkes holiday. My family does a latke night at least once during the holiday. My mother is partial to apple sauce as a topping, and my brother and I like to alternate that with sour cream and plain sugar. The thing that makes a latke, to my mind, is the fact that it works with all these toppings—as flavorful as it is in its own right, it works with both sweet and sour toppings.
(It should go without saying, but anyone who puts ketchup on their latke should be cast into the outer darkness.)
I don’t have a standard latke recipe—grate some potatoes, strain them, add flour, eggs, salt, and pepper, and fry in lots of oil. In the last few years, however, I’ve started adding sweet potato latkes to our repertoire. These are not, strictly speaking, latkes, nor are they a Hanukkah recipe. The originals were the signature dish of Orna and Ella, the famed Tel Aviv bistro which was renowned for combining the simplicity of Israeli cuisine with top notch preparation and Tel Avivian chic (sadly, the restaurant closed its doors earlier this year, after 26 years of operation). But I’ve found that they have just the right flavor profile for Hanukkah, the same combination of sweet, sour, and fried.
The recipe itself is incredibly simple, but one thing to bear in mind when making any sort of latkes is to always leave yourself more time than you think you’ll need. Latkes are easy but incredibly time-consuming, if only because you have to make them in batches. For this recipe, there’s also the added preparation time of cooking the sweet potatoes. You can even make the batter ahead of time and then fry the latkes before sitting down to eat, but even then, be aware that the frying step takes a long time.
Sweet Potato Latkes a la Orna and Ella (makes about two dozen latkes)
- 1.25 kg sweet potatoes
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- Butter for frying
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into large chunks of roughly equal size. Place in boiling water for about half an hour, until cooked completely through. A fork stuck into one of the chunks should pass all the way through with ease. Strain away the water (the original recipe suggests letting the cooked sweet potato sit for several hours to drain more thoroughly, but I’ve never found this necessary).
Place the cooked sweet potatoes in a bowl, and add the soy sauce, flour, sugar, salt, and pepper. Mix thoroughly until you have a smooth batter.
Fry the latkes in butter over a medium-low flame. Dump 1-2 spoonfuls of batter for each latke, and let cook for several minutes before flipping. You may want to flip each latke several times—you want the outside to caramelize slightly—but pay attention to make sure they aren’t burning. Place each batch of latkes on a paper towel to soak away the excess butter.
Serve on their own or with sour cream. Happy Hannukah!