Festive potato latkes

I’ll never forget December 2011. For me it will always be marked as the latke or potato pancake festive season.

Illana, an old friend I knew from my days in Israel who moved to America, was visiting me. A keen cook and an independent soul who tends to take charge of things, she declared that as the Jewish holiday Hannukah (more of that below) was just about to start she needed to make us potato latkes.

The first batch was a huge success and from that fateful day, on an almost daily basis, she bustled around the kitchen, grating, mixing and frying them up. Eventually we got her to use the outside gas braai which has a hob for the pan. Don’t get me wrong – I am a great fan of latkes and with many guests around they are great party treats but 2011’s latke overload put me on a latke break for several years.

Fortunately that was five years ago. This year the start of the Jewish holiday Hannukah falls on Christmas Day so it will certainly be a double celebration and, back on track, I envision the traditional food potato latkes will feature as the starter before a more traditional Christmas lunch.

In many ways, Hannukah is overshadowed by the largeness of Christmas but it is also regarded as a festive holiday celebrating the victory of the Maccabee brothers’ rebel army over Greek King Antiochus IV during the 2nd century BC and the “miracle” that is said to have occurred when a small quantity of oil lasted for eight days in the rededicated Second Temple of Jerusalem. It’s for that reason that traditional foods fried in oil are eaten, and besides potato latkes, doughnuts are big.

Regarding the overlapping of the two holidays, in 2015, Hanukkah ran from December 6 to December 14. Because Hanukkah lasts eight nights, the meeting of the two holidays isn’t unheard of; it’s just rarer for the first night to coincide with Christmas Eve or Christmas. The first night of Hanukkah last fell on Christmas Day in 2005, but Hanukkah has overlapped with Christmas or Christmas Eve not only in 2011 but also in 2014.

Because of this festive double-up I have made something luxurious. Once the latkes are done it is incredibly easy and quick to assemble.

There are dozens of recipes for latkes but this one has its roots in Shea Albert’s recipe, from her book The Irritable Working Woman’s Cookbook. Among other high profile jobs, Shea was the director of the SA Jewish Museum for nine years a while back.

Potato latkes with smoked salmon trout, sour cream and chives

3 or 4 large potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated

1 medium onion, grated

1 extra large egg, beaten

1/2 cup breadcrumbs or matzo meal (abvailable at large supermarkets)

1/2 tsp baking powder

salt and black pepper to taste

150 smoked salmon trout ribbons or smoked salmon

1 packet garlic chives

1 cup sour cream

2 or three tsp horseradish cream


After grating the potatoes, squeeze them thoroughly so that all, and any, liquid is removed.

Mix the potatoes, onion, eggs, bread crumbs and the salt and pepper together in a large bowl.

Heat about 1cm oil: sunflower or canola in a large pan. When it is hot, drop in large spoons of the latkes and fry them, turning each side, until they are golden brown.

Remove from the pan with a slotted egg lifter and drain on paper towels.

Mix the horseradish cream with the sourcream and gently separate each salmon trout ribbon.

Top each latke with a teaspoonful of the horseradish and sourcream mixture, fold over the smoked salmon trout and garnish with the chives. You can make it look very festive by piling them up and eat them as you would an open sandwich, letting each guest take one.

Serve with wedges of lemon and a grind of black pepper.

Try with Altydgedacht’s delicious Sauvignon Blanc 2016 or Durbanville’s recently released Sauvignon Blanc sparkling wine. The character of this delicious highly quintessentail terroir-driven varietal shouts out in both the wine and bubbly.

By the way potato latkes are great served on their own with apple sauce or as an accompaniment to your traditional Christmas fare.