Tale of the plate: Chef Shai Fargian’s potato latkes

Cuisine People

December 1, 2022



The YAFO chef shares his recipe and the tradition behind one of his favorite holiday dishes.

by Sharon Smith | photographs by Remy Thurston

Most of us have strong memories from holiday time as kids. Science tells us those memories are deeply ingrained because they often take place around our connection to each other and food, which employs the use of all our senses.

I’ll never forget the humming sound of my Mom’s old Hamilton Beach mixer combining the ingredients of a “best two-egg cake” batter, the smell of it baking in the oven, the sight of her cracking coconuts with a hammer on the hearth, the feel of my fork cutting into the dense moist cake, and the taste of my favorite dessert, which is unlike any coconut cake I’ve ever had. 

Food, especially dishes that come out only on special occasions, is a pathway to sacred memories of times with family and friends. So it is with Chef Shai Fargian, the culinary leader behind Yafo Kitchen, with locations in SouthPark, Dilworth and Plaza Midwood.

Raised in Israel, Middle Eastern flavors permeate Chef Shai’s healthy, simple cuisine. He’s worked in kitchens all over the world, including Tel Aviv and New York City, and often shares a taste of home when cooking a meal for friends. Potato latkes are one of his most meaningful holiday dishes. His recipe and commentary are lightly edited for space. 

“Hanukkah is one of my favorite holidays. It combines some of my favorite Jewish and Southern traditions — frying food. In memory of a miracle that made one small can of olive oil last a whole week in lighting the Temple in Jerusalem, Jewish people light candles and eat fried food for eight days. Any fried food is sufficient, but stuffed doughnuts and potato latkes are the leading favorites. 

“I created this recipe a few years ago and use it every year when we invite friends and family to celebrate with us (it makes a lot of latkes!). It has a unique technique to extract the starch out of the potatoes so you don’t have to use too much flour and eggs and mask the natural flavor and texture of the potatoes. It should be crispy golden brown from the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. Happy holidays!”

Potato latkes

Makes 40 large latkes 

5 pounds russet potatoes (Fargian prefers to keep the skin on; just scrub them before using) 

1 ½ pounds yellow onion (peeled)

5 eggs 

1 cup flour 

1 tablespoon baking powder 

2 tablespoons salt 

1 ½ teaspoon black pepper (Fargian likes black pepper! You can use less, depending on taste.) 

Oil for frying (Fargian uses grapeseed oil, as it has a neutral flavor and a high smoke temperature.)

Shred the potatoes and onions on a box shredder or use the shredder attachment of a food processor. Shred the potatoes lengthwise to get long ribbons — this helps hold the latkes together. 

Transfer the shredded potatoes and onion to a cheesecloth and strain, capturing the liquid in a large mixing bowl. More liquid will release as you mix it later, so try to get as much out as you can with the cheese cloth. Let sit for 10 minutes. All the starch from the potatoes will sink to the bottom, leaving pure potato-starch sediment. 

Pour out the liquid from the top, but keep the starch in the bowl.

Add the eggs and mix with the starch. Add the potatoes and onion shreds, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper, and mix thoroughly. It will appear dry in the beginning, but the salt will draw more moisture out of the potatoes. 

Scoop the mixture and use your hands to make a ball (Fargian uses about 1/3 cup per latke), shape the ball to a patty and fry in a pan over medium heat. Make sure you have enough oil in the pan; there should be bubbles around the whole latke. 

As the edges of the patty turn golden brown, flip the latkes. Fry until the bottom side is golden brown. 

Take out and place in a strainer or resting rack in a baking pan to drain.  SP

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