With the Hanukkah candles lit, presents circulating around, and the dreidel spinning on the floor in the center of the living room, Hanukkah would not have been the same when I was a child without delectable crispy latkes (latke is a Yiddish word for pancakes) to boot. Potato latkes on Hanukkah are typically fried in oil to celebrate the oil of the Temple Menorah lasting for eight days instead of one day. The story is that a group of Jewish warriors called the Maccabees, retook the temple from the Greeks and in rededicating the temple, used oil to light it. Although the oil was only enough for one day of lighting, the temple remained lit for eight days. This is why to this day, the Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah by honoring food like latkes that are cooked in oil.
Whereas traditional Hanukkah latkes are typically made with just potatoes, in this recipe, I’ve added zucchini to round out their nutrient profile. While potatoes are high in carbohydrates and contain a fair number of vitamins and minerals such as potassium and vitamin C, they miss out on antioxidants in zucchini.
Zucchini is a vegetable from the summer squash family. It is low in calories, sodium, and cholesterol, gluten-free and fat-free. At the same time, zucchini contains plenty of nutrients beneficial to health including vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin b6, folate, riboflavin, and manganese, among others. It also contains a special type of fiber called pectin, which prevents the oxidation and build-up of cholesterol. Zucchini is high in antioxidants, which can prevent free radical damage. Like other vegetables, zucchini can be part of a heart-healthy chronic disease-preventing diet.
Whereas some people bake their latkes, I stand by frying them in extra virgin olive oil because frying yields that extra delicious crisp factor (and olive oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fat). You can use regular olive oil too, but I prefer extra virgin because unlike regular olive oil, it’s not processed. Rather it is pressed from ripe olives without heat or chemical solvents, a technique that maintains its robust nutrient profile rather than depleting it as does processing.
Varieties aside, all olive oil is touted for health benefits because extra virgin or not, it is rich in monounsaturated fats and phenols, which are particularly potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that have positive effects on heart disease risk factors like cholesterol. Concerned about the fat in olive oil? Well, don’t be. According to researchers who study the Mediterranean diet, one of the healthiest diets on the planet, if your diet is otherwise in good shape (think all organic foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and lean protein), you can eat up to four tablespoons of olive oil a day without being concerned about packing on the pounds.
Latkes are great to bolster with a toppings and you can be as creative as you want. I love garnishing them with Greek yogurt and chopped chives, or apple butter, or even guacamole. If you’re craving some heat, make some chipotle mayo (I use Veganaise for this). If spice is what you’re hankering for, toss a few pinches of cumin on top or dip them in a turmeric cashew cream. Another beautiful thing about latkes is that they are incredibly versatile beyond how you garnish them. You can serve them in many different ways–as a cocktail, an appetizer, or even a main course with a side of sautéed vegetables and a small portion of protein (i.e. tofu, seitan, fish, or chicken).
Latkes can last in the refrigerator for up to a week in an air-tight container or in the freezer for a few months. To reheat them, preheat your oven to 325 degrees, defrost them if needed, then place them on a baking sheet, and pop them in for about 8 -10 minutes. If you’re in a hurry, you can microwave them, but doing so will diminish their crisp and may even produce a soggy or rubbery result. When reheated, I love to eat latkes for lunch as a side to my daily go-to salad.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Yields: About 10 latkes
1 cup russet potato, grated (use the largest grater)
1 cup zucchini, grated
1 large garlic clove, chopped,
2 eggs, beaten,
11/2 cup panko crumbs
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, plus more to taste
Pepper to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Optional toppings: Greek Yogurt, Sour Cream, Apple Sauce, Apple Butter, Guacamole, Chipotle Veganaise
Place the potato and zucchini in a colander with a paper towel and squeeze out as much water as you can. You really want them to be quite dry because otherwise, they won’t crisp well.
Once dry, transfer the grated potato and zucchini to a bowl. Then add the garlic, egg, panko crumbs, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Using your hands, an ice cream scooper, or a spoon, scoop out enough latke batter for one pancake that will be 1 to 2 inches in diameter each. Pat the batter down between your palms to form a flat disc about ¼-inch thick. Place the disc on a sheet pan and repeat the above steps until you’ve used all the batter and you’re ready to cook them.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil and heat until it shimmers. Then add the latkes. Cook until the underside is golden and crispy, about 5 minutes. Flip and cook the second side until it too, is golden and crisp. When done, transfer the latkes to a plate and serve immediately with your favorite topping.