Pampering your potatoes
Here are some tips for successful latkes:

Leave the potato skin on to add color and texture. If you leave the skin on, scrub the potatoes thoroughly with a vegetable brush. If you do peel them, though, keep them under water between peeling and shredding to prevent them from oxidizing and turning unappetizing shades of pinkish-brown and gray.

Once your potatoes are either scrubbed or peeled, get all the rest of your ingredients ready; you will need to work fairly quickly to get the mixture ready before the potatoes change color.

Jazz up your pancakes by shredding in sweet potatoes, apples, carrots, garlic, parsnips or zucchini. Just be sure that the majority of the mixture still consists of potatoes; other vegetables do not contain enough starch on their own to make the mixture stick together.

Wet, juicy potatoes make for soggy, greasy latkes that fall apart in the pan. The potatoes need to be dry and the oil needs to be hot so that the exterior of the latke will quickly sear to a crispy finish and prevent it from absorbing too much grease. To squeeze out the potato mixture, place it in a piece of cheesecloth or tea towel and wring it out with all your might. When you cannot force out any more liquid out, open up the cheesecloth or tea towel, stir the mixture around a little, and then squeeze it some more. Empty the contents into a bowl and mix in the remaining ingredients.

Heat a pan with vegetable oil 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch deep. When the oil has reached a temperature of about 350 degrees, it's time to fry. If you don't have a deep-fat thermometer, test the temperature of the oil by dropping a small amount of latke mixture into the pan. If it turns golden brown within 1 minute, the oil is ready.

If you aren't able to serve the latkes right away, keep them in the oven at 200 degrees on a pan or platter. To keep them crispy, don't stack them and refrain from covering them.

Crispy Traditional Potato Pancakes
Makes about 2 dozen pancakes

2 pounds russet (baking) or Yukon Gold potatoes

1 medium onion

1 large egg, beaten

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Vegetable oil for frying

Peel the potatoes and put in cold water. Using a grater or a food processor, coarsely grate the potatoes and onion. Place together in a fine-mesh strainer or tea towel and squeeze out all the water over a bowl. The potato starch will settle to the bottom; reserve that after you have carefully poured off the water.

Mix the potato and onion with the potato starch. Add the egg, and salt and pepper.

Heat a griddle or nonstick pan and coat with a thin film of vegetable oil. Take about 2 tablespoons of the potato mixture in the palm of your hand and flatten as best you can. Place the potato mixture on the griddle, flatten with a large spatula, and fry for a few minutes until golden. Flip the pancake over and brown the other side. Remove to paper towels to drain. Serve immediately. You can also freeze the potato pancakes and crisp them in a 350-degree oven at a later time.

Variation: If you want a thicker pancake, add an extra egg plus 1/3 cup of matzo meal to the batter.

(From “Jewish Cooking in America” by Joan Nathan, Knopf.)

Potato-Yam Pancakes
4 servings

1 onion, quartered

2 large eggs

1 unpeeled Russet potato (8 to 12 ounces), scrubbed and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 garnet yam (8 to 12 ounces), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons flour

Canola oil, for frying

Sour cream and applesauce, for serving

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, puree onion and eggs together until smooth and fluffy. Add both potatoes and pulse until the mixture is finely chopped but still retains some texture. Add the salt, pepper and flour, and quickly process to combine. Do not over-process. Pour batter into a medium bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let the batter sit for 15 minutes.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1/2 inch of oil over medium-high heat. Pour 1 tablespoon batter into the skillet to test the oil. If it is hot enough, the pancake will begin to sizzle and brown. Spoon batter into skillet, about 1 tablespoon per pancake, leaving a little room between each one. Flatten them with the back of a spoon and use the spatula to round the sides, if necessary. Fry pancakes for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they are golden brown on the bottom, then turn them and brown the other side, about 2 more minutes.

Transfer the pancakes to a baking sheet lined with 2 layers of paper towels. To serve now, place the pancakes on a platter and serve immediately. If making ahead, keep warm in a preheated 200-degree oven for up to 30 minutes. Serve sour cream and applesauce on the side.