Sweet potato latkes with sage

Over the past few months, I’ve been doing some occasional writing for CASE Magazine. My latest piece went up today, and it’s about a topic that’s on all of my loved ones’ minds this week month year: Thanksgivukkah.

That’s right, folks. For the first time in well over 100 years, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are coinciding. Over at CASE, I discuss the ways that Thanksgiving and Hanukkah make sense as a mash-up, and then again don’t: how the traditions, history, and cultural significance push and pull at each other in slightly unsettling ways. But this here is a food blog. And everyone knows that the real buzz around Thanksgivukkah is the food. So let’s talk turkey (heh heh).

If there’s any foodstuff that perfectly represents the marriage of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, it’s the sweet potato latke. This is Hanukkah form meets Thanksgiving substance: shredded sweet potato and diced onion, squeezed as dry as possible, bound together with starch and egg, and fried until crackly-golden on the outside. Because sweet potatoes are less starchy than ordinary potatoes, they make for a softer, slightly chewier latke. The flavor is wonderful, with shades of sweetness from the potatoes and onions. I add a healthy dose of fresh sage, deep and musky and slightly bitter, which really takes these from good to soooooo good.

Because of the less-starchy sweet potatoes, these latkes will likely need a bit more binder than the ordinary potato kind, and you have choices for what to use. If you want the familiar crackery flavor of a traditional latke, use matzo meal; if you want plain old binding power, use all-purpose flour; and if you want to keep things gluten-free, use cornstarch. Whatever you use, though, keep in mind that the best latkes are made by feel, not by strict measurement. My mother never uses a recipe to make latkes–she just mixes and adjusts until the mixture holds together enough to fry. The proportions below are a start, but feel free to use more or less egg, and more or less binder, if needed. It’s always a good idea to fry a teeny test latke first–that way you can make sure the mixture hangs together, and taste for salt and pepper and sage. After that, get to frying. There’s a crazy mash-up holiday to celebrate.

sweet potato latke

Sweet Potato Latkes with Sage (makes about 3 dozen small latkes)

Adapted loosely from Gourmet

Note: Make sure to squeeze out as much moisture from the vegetables as you can before mixing in the rest of the ingredients. Otherwise you’ll end up with what my sister calls “hash brownkes.”

2 lb sweet potatoes (about 3 medium), peeled and coarsely grated

1 medium yellow onion, finely diced

1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 tbsp minced fresh sage

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1/2 – 2/3 cup matzo meal, all-purpose flour, or cornstarch, as needed

Peanut, vegetable, or canola oil for frying

Place a colander or large strainer in the sink, and line with a clean kitchen towel or a double layer of cheesecloth. Place the sweet potatoes and onion in the cloth-lined strainer, and toss them with 1/2 tsp salt. Let sit for 15-30 minutes, or until the vegetables have started to release their liquid. Gather up the cloth and squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible.

Transfer the drained sweet potato and onion mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add eggs, sage, remaining 1 tsp salt, and pepper, and mix until thoroughly combined. Mix in just enough matzo meal, flour, or cornstarch to bind the mixture together–it’s ready when you can form it into patties that hold together when passed from hand to hand.

In a large cast iron skillet or other large heavy skillet, heat about 1/8 inch of oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, form the latke mixture into patties (about 2 tbsp per patty), squeezing out any residual moisture, and lay them in the pan. Fry the latkes, undisturbed, until golden brown on the bottom, then flip and fry until golden on the other side. Remove from the pan and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Continue frying, replenishing the oil in the skillet as needed, until all the latkes are cooked.

To reheat latkes once they’ve been cooked, preheat the oven to 400º F. Lay the latkes in a single layer on baking sheets and bake for about 10 minutes, or until warm and crisp. Serve immediately.

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