Creative Latke Toppings: Basil Pesto

It's not just sour cream and applesauce anymore.

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For the last 100 years, Russets have reigned as the king of the American potato pancake. But more recently, creative home cooks have begun to augment the “traditional” latke recipe (which, according to Matthew Goodman's Jewish Food: The World at Table, likely dates back to mid-19th century Russia), by experimenting with alternative types of potatoes (purple, sweet, etc.) as well as yams, beets, rutabaga, zucchini, carrots, and other vegetables that benefit from a sizzle in shmaltz or oil.When it comes to toppings, however, the sour cream and applesauce box has proven far more challenging to escape. Perhaps that's because it is hard to grow tired of something as delicious as a crunchy, salt-kissed latke spread with sweet applesauce or dolloped with sour cream. Still, fried potatoes–along with other root veggie latkes–provide the perfect base for a vast array of sweet and savory toppings.

So this year, try mixing and matching your latkes with a slew of store-bought and homemade toppings–you might just discover a Hanukkah miracle of your own.

Alternative Toppings

Basil Pesto–brightens up any latke (see recipe below)
Pear and Ginger Compote–applesauce's more sophisticated cousin
Sour Cream mixed with Chopped Chives–a tasty update to the traditional
Aioli–spreading this creamy, garlicky French sauce on latkes nods to the Belgian tradition of dipping French fries in mayonnaise
Goat Cheese–the perfect complement for piping hot beet latkes
Ratatouille–add a poached egg, and you have a complete meal
Horseradish Sauce–where Hanukkah and Passover collide
Cranberry Sauce–a lovely Thanksgiving repeat
Mango Chutney–a thick, sweet, and spicy Indian condiment that tastes wonderful on all potato dishes, from Aloo Gobi to latkes
Greek Yogurt and Honey–even more decadent than sour cream
Apple Salsa–a fresh mix of chopped apples, onion, and cilantro lightens up the oil-laden latke
Lemon Curd–this zesty English dessert spread, made from lemon, eggs, sugar and butter, is a surprising treat on top of carrot latkes


  1. 1/4 cup olive oil
  2. 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional)
  3. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  4. 1/2 cup pine nuts
  5. 2 cups basil leaves, washed and dried
  6. 2 cloves garlic


Place everything but the olive oil in a food processor or blender and blend until it forms a thick paste. Then, with the processor on, drizzle in the olive oil. Blend until smooth. If using a blender, add the olive oil all at once instead of slowly drizzling it in.

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Leah Koenig is a writer and cookbook author whose work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Saveur, CHOW, Food Arts, Tablet, Gastronomica, and Every Day with Rachael Ray. Leah writes a monthly food column for The Forward and a bimonthly column for called “One Ingredient, Many Ways.” She is the former Editor-in-Chief of the award-winning blog, The Jew & The Carrot, and she is a frequent contributor to, where her recipes are very popular, and highly praised. Her first cookbook, The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook: Daily Meals for the Contemporary Jewish Kitchen, was published by Rizzoli in 2011. The book was named one of the “Best Books of 2011? by Library Journal and The Kitchn called it “a big, beautiful book that is also down-to-earth and completely accessible.”

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