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David Lissner
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Eat this! Latkes, crispy symbols of Hanukkah

Frying latkes (photo ©2011 Leah A. Zeldes).

Frying latkes (photo by Leah A. Zeldes).

What it is: Latke in Yiddish means “pancake.” They can be made from anything — from matzo meal to cheese — but most people use the term to refer to Jewish-style kartofl latkes, crispy cakes made from finely grated potatoes fried in oil, and commonly served during the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah. Jewish kartofl latkes differ from other potato pancakes, such as German-style, by being almost entirely potato, with perhaps some onion, but with a very small amount of flour.

Where it comes from: It’s unclear when the potato got introduced to the pancake or by whom, though potato growing apparently spread rapidly throughout Eastern Europe in the late 1800s, along with potato pancakes of various sorts. The latke’s association with Hanukkah, however, likely dates from early 20th-century America. In 1919, ads in the Yiddish press touted Aunt Jemima pancake flour as “the best flour for latkes” and promoted Crisco as combining “Hanukkah latkes and Modern Science.”

What to do with it: Serve potato latkes hot with sour cream or applesauce. Check out this celebrated latke recipe from Manny’s Coffee Shop and Deli in the South Loop.

More holiday recipes