After the Thanksgiving turkey is roasted, and all the leftovers have been eaten – and eaten again, many people’s stomachs begin gearing up for another favorite foodie holiday, Hanukkah. This celebration of lights honors the miracle of oil, and often people celebrate it by preparing a wide array of fried foods, like latkes.
Now, here’s a dinner table question: What is the history behind the latke? Contrary to popular thought, latkes – which we also refer to as potato pancakes – weren’t always made with potatoes. Yup, they were inspired by Italian ricotta pancakes, and some still use cheese today when making their latkes. Nor is our favorite Idaho or Yukon Gold potato the sole star ingredient, anymore. You can find latkes being made with a wide variety of other fruits and vegetables, like sweet potatoes, apples, squash, zucchini, carrot, beet, parsnips, celery root – even cauliflower.
Latkes are also the perfect cocktail food. They can be made in advance, even refrigerated or frozen, then re-heated at the time of serving for a perfectly crisp-warm treat. As well, they can be made in small, finger-food sized portions that can be devoured in one bite. Plus, everyone loves them. When it comes to accompaniments for latkes, the options are endless, as well. Maybe you’re simple, preferring the classic applesauce and sour cream topping. Or maybe you’re more the indulgent type, treating your latke like a blini and serving it with crème fraîche and lox… Or even caviar!
With the abundance of potential latke ingredients and garnitures, one could make a wide variety of appetizers without ever using the same ingredient twice. Keeping this in mind, there is then a lot of ask from a host or hostess who is looking to properly host a latke party, complete with an array of latke varieties and toppings to shop for and prepare. If your budget – or kitchen – doesn’t allow you to take all that on, why not opt for our favorite way to host a latke party? Go potluck style.
Latkes, Potluck Style
Now, now… Don’t cringe or shy away from this page when you read that! As the host or hostess, you needn’t lose all control of the foods that come through your door. And guests, don’t be afraid of being “stuck” with some terrible latke recipe that you have to buy all sorts of weird or expensive ingredients for... Or not knowing how to make latkes (one of our editors shared her "Latke Experiment" story with us; you can also watch a helpful how-to here). With some careful planning, and simple “assignments,” the host or hostess will get his or her fun array of latkes, while the guest will be able to be creative pairing their own toppings with the assigned latke ingredient.
If you’re going casual and fun, as the host, you can let each guest surprise you with their own latke creation. Of course, potatoes pair perfectly with vodka, so supply a signature cocktail of your choosing made with vodka. If your guests wish to drink something else, they can also bring a bottle or two of their preferred beverage along with them.
Something More Complex
If you’re looking for something more organized, and want to avoid too many latke and applesauce pairings, you can also share your signature cocktail in advance, in a menu format, with blank spaces below for where each guests’ latke creation would be. Use this as your invitation. When each guest RSVPs, assign them a specific latke ingredient (some guests may be assigned the same one) and ask them to share their latke pairing (and any special equipment they might need) with you a week before the event, thus allowing you to make sure no one chooses the same thing. For the night of the party, print out the menu cards and situate at each table you are planning to serve the food from so that everyone knows what is offered.
Afraid your friends won’t rise to this creative culinary challenge? Up the ante a bit, and add an Iron Chef element to the party. Disclose on the invitation that there will be a prize for the most creative and the most delicious latke pairings, this way your budding Grant Achatz friend and your Ina Garten friend won’t be pitted up against each other. If you plan on hosting a latke potluck every year, maybe invest in a small trophy – or, even better, a tray to serve latkes on – that can be engraved with the winners’ names every year. Then again, you can always send them home with a bag of gelt (just don’t tell them beforehand).
Looking for ideas? Here are some of our favorite latke pairings:
Potato + Applesauce + Sour Cream
Potato + Smoked Salmon + Cream Cheese
Potato + Sour Cream + Caviar
Sweet Potato + Seared Tuna + Wasabi Crema
Sweet Potato + Scrambled Eggs + Cheese
Butternut Squash + Blue Cheese + Bacon
Butternut Squash + Mascarpone + Roasted Mushrooms
Zucchini + Ricotta + Herb Pesto
Zucchini + Parmigiano + Roasted Tomatoes
Celery Root + Roast Beef + Horseradish
Celery Root + Dijon-Yogurt Mayonnaise
Parsnip + Scallop + Lemon Citrus Crème Fraîche
Parsnip + Cream Cheese + Chopped Dates
Beet + Goat Cheese + Fig Compote
Beet + Greek Yogurt + Orange Marmalade
Carrot + Seared Duck + Cinnamon Mascarpone
Carrot + Crème Fraiche + Caramelized Apples