Every year, I spend months brainstorming a new kind of latke only to end up making classic potato latkes for Hanukkah. Made well, they are always a clear winner for me over potato alternatives like beet, parsnip, zucchini, sweet potato, etc.
Maybe it’s my upcoming trip to Japan, but I’ve been thinking a lot about mochi recently (Japanese glutinous rice cakes) and a light bulb went off: savory, chewy, mochi latkes! The addition of mochi flour makes the latkes lighter in consistency, yet the chewiness it adds makes it incredibly satisfying, even addicting.
Continuing with the Japanese theme, I decided to top them with an Asian pear and persimmon relish instead of the classic apple sauce and sour cream. The topping is stewed in browned butter, making this the best latke I have ever made. It’s a delicious blend of my Japanese and Jewish cultures and a metaphor for how blending two cultures can inspire an improvement to the original tradition—in this case: Latkes! After all, isn’t this what “Jewish food” is anyway?
2 medium-sized Asian pears, peeled and chopped into 1/4” cubes
1 medium-sized fuyu persimmon, peeled and chopped into 1/4” cubes
2 Tbsp. butter
Flakey sea salt to finish
In a small pot, brown the butter. It will take about 10 minutes, but you need to watch it the ENTIRE time. The butter will melt, then simmer, then brown bits will start to appear. After the bottom of the pot seems to have a fair amount of browned bits, remove it from the heat. Browned butter goes from browned to burned (blackened bits instead of browned bits) in an instant, so be very careful. It should have a nutty, toasty aroma.
Place the fruit in the pot with the butter and put it back on low heat. Stir frequently for about 10 minutes. The fruit should cook slightly but still maintain a bite/crunch. Strain the butter and liquids from the fruit and let the relish cool completely.
Since we’re only grating two potatoes here, I like to just use a box grater (the side with the large holes) for both the potatoes and onion. If more than doubling this recipe, I would use a food processor.
If you’re serving the latkes today, turn on your oven’s warming drawer or your oven to 250°F. I prefer to make mine in advance and freeze them.
Place 1/3 of the grated potato in a cheese cloth or a clean, thin dish towel and squeeze very tightly to remove all liquid from the potatoes. Do this three times until liquid from all the potatoes is removed. Place potatoes into a large mixing bowl. Add the grated onion with liquids. Now add in the mochi flour, eggs and salt. Stir well to combine. You’ll want to work quickly here so the potatoes don’t oxidize and discolor too much.
Heat a heavy-bottomed pan (I use a large stainless steel pan) with vegetable oil to about a 1/2” depth over medium heat. Test to see if the oil is ready by putting a little grated potato into the pan. If it immediately bubbles, it’s ready. It should take about 10 minutes for your oil to heat. Keep a careful eye on it while it’s heating up because you don’t want it to be too hot or your latkes will burn. Conversely, if you start cooking your latkes before the oil is hot enough, they will end up greasy on the inside and give you a stomach ache!
Line a cookie sheet with a wire rack and a couple of layers of paper towels over it. Place it near your frying pan. This is where your latkes will cool.
Add the latkes one at a time in the hot oil. Be careful not to overcrowd them. I cooked five at a time, max.
The latkes are ready to eat when they are cool to the touch but still warm inside. Top with crème fraîche, then fruit relish, then a light sprinkling of cinnamon.
If you are freezing your latkes, preheat your oven to 425°F an hour before you plan to serve them. Bake them for 10-15 minutes from frozen. If possible, bake them on a wire rack on top of a cookie sheet. This will help air circulate all around, ensuring they will be crispy on both sides. Cool on paper towels for about 5-10 minutes and garnish as indicated above. Happy Hanukkah!
Kristin Eriko Posner (she/her) is a Japanese American Jew and the founder of Nourish Co., a website that inspires multiethnic people and families to create nourishing new rituals drawn from time-honored wisdom. She does this through her writing, recipe development, and a limited-edition collection of modern heirlooms, all of which explore and celebrate her intersecting identities.