You know my grandparents really knew how to cook. It seems to me that everyone born in “the Old Country” (in this case, Transylvania) was born with built-in cooking intuition. Somehow, they could create the most scrumptious meals using no fancy equipment, nor even measuring spoons. I recall that they hosted every holiday humbly, turning out the expected delicacies with what seemed like the simplest, most relaxed effort. No exotic flavor profiles, nor food combos or wine pairings; no attempts at reinventing the wheel, because when the food is that good – no, make that superb – there’s no need to find a “twist” on the recipe.
On Chanukah, we were treated to their potato pancakes, “latkes” that were classic and simple. My grandfather, a professional chef, wore a manly white waist apron that suited him perfectly. His latkes were made of eggs, onions, potatoes, oil, salt, pepper, and a little matzo meal to make them crunchy. “Corn meal, that’s also good, if you don’t have any matzo meal,” he would say reassuringly, though you knew that he secretly wondered what kind of kitchen would not have a handful of matzo meal somewhere. The potatoes were hand-grated so fine –almost to a pudding-like consistency – then lightly fried in a pan that looked as though it, too, had just come over from the Old Country. Applesauce and sour cream traditionally accompany latkes, but who needed them? Crispy on the edges, with a fluffy, buttery smooth center, Grandpa’s version of this Chanukah delicacy could stand alone.
The first Chanukah after my wedding, I called my grandfather for his latke recipe. He gave it to me with “measurements” like “a sprinkle of salt, a few spoons of matzo meal, some oil…” All the while, I wished I had watched him in action when he was in his prime. I could have taken notes, measured out the amounts he used, studied his grating technique.
But I was on my own. Tasked with recreating Grandpa’s latkes, I tried and failed, tried and failed – until I finally produced something that is reminiscent of his glorious, crunchy potato perfection. The recipe went into my first published cookbook, Quick & Kosher: Recipes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing. I have reprinted these Classic Potato Latkes here and created a how-to video that you can watch below so you can see how easy it is to make.
My husband and kids say these latkes are the best in the world. They are very good, but they’re not my Grandfather’s. Maybe it’s my food processor and that fancy-shmancy skillet.