When I was a kid, we had latkes at least once during Hanukkah every year (sometimes twice if we hounded Mom about it enough). They were always the classic Ashkenazi variety made from white potatoes, onion, and matzo meal, we ate them with applesauce and sour cream, and they were an absolute treat. I’m not into fried food – even when I was younger it didn’t appeal much to me – but latkes are an exception. They’re a family holiday tradition and a once-a-year indulgence, so I make them, and I enjoy every bite.
I wasn’t really feeling Hanukkah this year. My mom just passed away a few weeks ago and a big part of me didn’t want to acknowledge the first holiday without my parents. I considered blowing it off completely, but as I thought about how important tradition was to both Mom and Dad I decided they’d want me to carry on. Still, I couldn’t quite bring myself to make those same latkes Mom used to, so I decided to create a new version. I made fabulous root vegetable latkes last year, but inspiration struck me at the market this week, and I suspect it’s no accident that I wound up using two of Mom’s favorite vegetables – sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts – in a new rendition. I think she would have loved these latkes.
If you’re familiar with my recipes you know I love to cook with Middle Eastern and African flavors, and that’s the direction I took with these latkes. They’re flavored with warm, smoky spices, including whole cumin seeds for an unexpected and delicious added crunch. Instead of the standard matzo meal or flour that binds traditional latkes together, I’ve used grain-free cassava flour and a touch of arrowroot starch for these, and I’m thrilled with the result. They’re beautifully browned, lacy, and crisp on the outside, with a still-vibrant and fresh center that has a touch of creaminess to it from the starch and egg. That’s latke perfection if you ask me!
Umm, hello, do you see that contrast? Crispy fried exterior, bright, fresh interior…But I’m getting ahead of myself.
In my world no latke is complete without sour cream, and I amped it up a few notches this time. By blending the sour cream with high-quality sheep’s milk feta, fiery harissa paste, some fresh mint, and a touch of grated garlic, I ended up with a killer, complex dipping sauce that’s spicy, cooling, salty, and tangy all at once. The final touch on these babies is a garnish of fresh pomegranate arils to provide a delightful pop of freshness and tart-sweet flavor. Don’t skip the pomegranate – it really does add something special.
So let’s get to it, shall we? Make the sauce first, because you want everything ready to go when the latkes are finished cooking. Once it’s blended or whisked together, set it aside in the bowl you want to use for serving, and move on to prepping everything for the latkes. Don’t forget to set out a wire rack lined with paper towels for draining the latkes after they’re fried.
Get those vegetables and aromatics grated or shredded, and combine them in a large bowl. (FYI, those are purple Brussels sprouts in the bowl – I used some in this batch along with the standard green ones. There’s really no difference other than the color, I just happen to think they look pretty.) One of the best things about using this particular vegetable mixture? No need to wring the heck out of it all to extract excess water. Just grate/shred and mix. Easy peasy.
Add the spices, baking powder, and beaten eggs, and combine everything thoroughly. Sprinkle in the arrowroot and cassava flour, and mix until they’re evenly distributed and you don’t see any bits of dry starch or flour.
Set a heavy skillet over medium heat, and cover the bottom of the pan with ⅛ to ¼ inch of a neutral high-heat oil. My personal favorite is avocado, but I’ve been know to fry in grapeseed or refined coconut oil too. (FYI I highly recommend tracking the oil temperature with a thermometer when you’re frying. These days I use a fancy digital instant-read Thermoworks model, but for occasional home use you can absolutely make do with an inexpensive clip-on candy/frying thermometer – see here for a sample setup.)
Once the oil reaches 365°F you’re ready to start frying the latkes. Make it easy on yourself and use a one-ounce cookie scoop to portion out the batter if you have one. If not, you should aim for 2 tablespoons of batter per latke. Scoop the batter into the palm of one hand, and mold or press it into a relatively round patty. Gently drop it into the hot oil, form anywhere from 2 to 4 more patties depending on the size of your pan, and add them to the oil. Make sure not to overcrowd the pan so the latkes have plenty of space (crowded latkes = soggy latkes), and keep an eye on the oil temperature. Every time you add more batter to the pan the oil temperature will drop, so adjust the flame as needed to maintain a temperature range of 350-365°F.
The latkes will fry on the first side for 2-3 minutes, until they’re evenly browned on the bottom and firm enough to flip over without falling apart.
Once you’ve flipped them, cook for another 2-3 minutes. As they finish cooking, use a spatula to transfer them to the paper-lined rack to drain. I like to turn them over after a couple of minutes so they drain on both sides. Continue forming, frying, and draining them until you’ve used up all the batter.
Garnish those gorgeous, flavorful, crispy latkes with pomegranate arils and chopped chives, and serve with the harissa cream sauce for dipping. Happy Hanukkah!
Miss you so much, Mom. this one’s for you.
- For Harissa Cream Sauce
- 4 oz (½ cup) sour cream or non-dairy Greek style yogurt¹
- 3 oz (½ cup) good sheep’s milk feta, finely crumbled
- 10ml (2 tsp) extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 tsp harissa paste²
- ½ tsp finely grated garlic
- 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
- ⅛ tsp Kosher salt
- For Latkes
- ¾ lb sweet potato, peeled & finely grated³ (yield 2 lightly packed cups)
- 4 oz Brussels sprouts, shredded or sliced³ (yield 2 packed cups)
- 1 large leek, white & light green parts only, finely sliced, rinsed well⁴ (yield 1 lightly packed cup)
- 2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
- 1 tsp finely grated fresh turmeric (or substitute ¼ tsp dried)
- ¾ tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp whole cumin seed
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ tsp smoked paprika
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- 3 large eggs, beaten until uniform
- 11g (1 Tbsp + 1 tsp) arrowroot powder
- 45g (6 Tbsp) cassava flour (I recommend Otto’s Naturals)
- Neutral high-heat oil for frying (I use avocado)
- For Garnish
- ½ cup pomegranate seeds
- 1 Tbsp finely chopped chives
- Make the cream sauce: Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl or blender, and whisk or blend to combine. A blender will turn out a smoother sauce, while hand-whisking will result in a more textured sauce with visible bits of feta. Set the sauce aside while you make the latkes.
- Make the latke mixture: In a large bowl combine sweet potato, Brussels sprouts, leek, spices, and baking powder, and toss to combine. Mix in eggs until incorporated, then stir in arrowroot and cassava flour until evenly distributed - you shouldn’t see any dry starch or flour remaining.
- Fry the latkes: Set a heavy skillet (I use cast iron) over medium heat, cover bottom of pan with ⅛ to ¼ inch oil, and heat oil to 365°F. While waiting for oil to heat, line a wire cooling rack with a layer of paper towels for draining the latkes, and set aside.
- One the oil has reached the proper temperature, scoop 2 tablespoons batter into your palm - I recommend a spring loaded one-ounce cookie scoop for this - and mold the batter into a patty shape. Gently lower it into the oil, and repeat with 2-4 more patties depending on the size of your skillet. Don’t overcrowd the pan (smaller 8 or 9 inch pans will only hold 3 at a time; 10-12 inch pans can accommodate 4 or 5).
- Fry the latkes for 2-3 minutes until nicely browned on the bottom, then flip and continue frying on the other side for 2-3 more minutes until evenly browned. Use a spatula to transfer cooked latkes to the towel-lined rack to drain; flipping after a couple of minutes to drain the other side. Repeat with remaining batter, keeping an eye on the oil temperature and adjusting the flame as necessary to maintain a range of 350-365°F. At lower temperatures the latkes will be very greasy; at temperatures higher than 365°F the natural sugars in the sweet potato are likely to burn.
- Serve: Arrange the latkes on a platter, sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and chives, and serve Harissa Cream Sauce on the side for dipping.
² Harissa paste varies widely in heat level across brands, so adjust the amount according to your palate and the type you’re using. I love spicy food, so I use a spicy harissa and the full tablespoon of paste.
³ Use the finest holes on a box grater or the smallest setting on a food processor grating disk to grate the sweet potatoes so they’re in fine strands. Larger/thicker pieces won’t hold together as well when it’s time to fry the latkes. To shred the Brussels sprouts you can use a food processor with the shredding disc on the finest setting, though mine doesn’t do a very good job so I shred them by hand using a knife or mandoline (if you use the latter please be extra careful). Stores do sell pre-shredded Brussels sprouts so you can use those instead, though if the shreds look thick you might want to give them a quick chop; the pieces should be somewhat delicate/thin.
⁴ Leeks are notorious for hiding grit between their layers. Add the leek slices to a bowl, fill to cover with cold water, and give them a good swish with your hand to agitate out any bits that are still stuck inside the slices. Let the leeks float in the water for 1-2 minutes to allow any grit to settle to the bottom, then carefully scoop out the clean leek slices and drain well.