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Pure, unadulterated, old-school latkes are a thing of wonder. Done right, they're crisp and lacy on the outside, and moist and tender on the inside. They come in many shapes and sizes—some like 'em super-thin and flat; others prefer them dense and meaty. But at the end of the day, it all boils down to the tried-and-true combination of potato, onion, egg, and matzo meal (plus a generous dash of salt and pepper). Why mess with a good—nay, perfect—thing?
Some would say don't. They would argue that when it comes to latke variations, it's all mishegas. And they wouldn't be entirely wrong. Latke variations are like the bubbly, outgoing grandchildren of the classic. And, like all grandchildren, some are totally annoying overachievers while others are total disappointments.
Well, not these guys. These latkes are the cool, laid-back, creative grandkids; the ones who are confident enough to hang with their grandparents instead of pretending they don't exist. They respect tradition—they just want to try something new, and ain't nobody gonna stop 'em.
Each of these three variations contains the core staples of the traditional latke—you'll need potatoes, onions, egg, and matzo meal in all cases. They all follow the same basic latke-making technique. But they also integrate other vegetables and spices, herbs, and even nuts and cheese. If this is mishegas, then mishegas is freaking delicious.
Zucchini Latkes With Pine Nuts, Parmesan, and Basil
I'm a zucchini fiend, so this one was a no-brainer. But while zucchini are delicious, they also have a very delicate flavor that can easily be overwhelmed. Chopped basil and lemon zest help that light, grassy quality shine.
Once I had basil in there, a pesto-flavored light bulb went off and I dove for some pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. The combination was so successful, I'm tempted to start adding zucchini to my pesto in the future.
These latkes are especially tender and refreshingly light. They have an airy, springtime quality that makes me think of them as the salad course of my all-latke dinner.
Beet Latkes With Walnuts and Horseradish Sour Cream
This recipe takes its inspiration from beet skordalia, an addictive Greek dip that combines potatoes, beets, walnuts, and a whole lot of garlic. Translating it into a latke was a simple matter of shredding my ingredients rather than whipping them.
Beets, typically sugary-sweet when roasted, have a slightly milder, more vegetal flavor served raw. But briefly fried, they straddle sweet and savory, partnering seamlessly with the punchy garlic, zesty onion, starchy potato, and chopped nuts. The vibrant color is nothing to scoff at, either. Just look at that:
A spoonful of sour cream helps brighten these latkes up, but the real coup here is a horseradish-spiked version. This combination will make sense to those of you who love beet horseradish at Passover; if you have no idea what I'm talking about, then take my word for it: sharp, pungent horseradish, tangy sour cream, and sugary beets are a match made in latke heaven. Actually, horseradish sour cream and most things is pretty much perfect. Oh, and it's as easy as dolloping some horseradish into a bowl of sour cream and giving it a big stir.
Spiced Sweet Potato, Carrot, and Acorn Squash Latkes
I'm not a huge fan of sweet potato latkes. At best, I find them unmemorable; most are too sweet, and rarely have I enjoyed one as much as a traditional potato latke. For this recipe, I wanted to build a more complex, nuanced flavor, with some textural interest. That's where the carrots and acorn squash come in. The three vegetables form a natural partnership—their flavors are complementary, but with enough variation to promise something a little more unexpected.
My next challenge was tackling that overwhelming sweetness. Incorporating shredded potatoes and chopped onions was a good start, but the real game-changer here is ginger—freshly grated, it delivers a zesty heat that cuts right through the mixed vegetable base. Then, to round things out, I added smoky paprika, a pinch of cumin, and some floral coriander.
The resulting latkes are definitely on the sweet side, but the ginger and spices make it feel a little Moroccan, a little Indian, and a whole lot Jewish in a totally new way. If the zucchini latkes were our salad course, these are one helluva dessert.