Why Do Jews Eat Potato Pancakes During Hanukkah?

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Hanukkah started Tuesday night and runs the whole week, eight nights in total. During these nights, a helluva lot of latkes, or potato pancakes, are consumed. To understand why, you first have to understand the story of Hanukkah. As with most Jewish holidays, in the beginning there was a lot of suffering. (This reminds me a funny Jewish joke. The refrain during each holiday goes like this: "We suffered, we suffered, we suffered, now let's eat!") This time, it was at the hands of Antiochus IV (215 BC – 164 BC), who massacred Jews left and right during his reign, refused to let them practice their religion and sacked their temples. He also forced them to assimilate to the Hellenistic ways of the times. But a fellow named Judah Maccabee, the leader of  a religious traditionalist group, refused to assimilate and fought against the Syrian-Greeks to take back the holy temple in Jerusalem.  In 165 BC, Maccabee and his group did just that. But when they got to the eternal flame (the oil lamp that burns 24/7/365 in every temple) they found that there was only enough oil to keep the flame going for one more night. But it took them eight nights to replenish the oil and the flame, miraculously, burned until reserves were brought in.

So the potato pancakes are fried in oil, which is a reminder of this miracle. In other countries, fried donuts are more popular. But in the States, it's definitely latkes. If you've never eaten a potato pancake, you don't know what you're missing! They are delicious when fresh, with a dollop of sour cream or apple sauce on top. After the jump, you'll find my personal recipe for the best potato pancakes in the world... Happy Hanukkah to all.

  • 2 cups peeled and shredded potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon grated onion
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup peanut oil for frying
  • Place the potatoes in a cheesecloth and wring, extracting as much moisture as possible.
    In a medium bowl stir the potatoes, onion, eggs, flour and salt together.
    In a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hot. Place large spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the hot oil, pressing down on them to form 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick patties. Brown on one side, turn and brown on the other. Let drain on paper towels. Salt to taste and serve hot!

December 22, 2011 - 9:38am
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