An Ode to Community and Draniki, the Humble Belarusian Latke
In tracking down recipes for draniki, the Belarusian potato pancake, JDC's Marina Gatskan discovers powerful story of Jewish community revival.
By Marina Gatskan - JDC Coordinator, Minsk | December 15, 2020
Preparing for Chanukah, I surveyed some friends and found out that here in Belarus, there is no one “most traditional” recipe for latkes, the potato pancakes that we like to call draniki. Almost every family has its own tradition and claims that theirs is “the one.” Some add flour to thicken the mix, others use matzo meal, and still others choose starch.
To add eggs or not to add eggs? For me, it’s no question at all. And then, onions … I could write a whole essay just about onions.
One thing’s for sure. You need potatoes and a friend — to peel and grate potatoes. The rest is optional.
Here are some recipes from the Jewish community of Belarus:
Daria Gorokh, Minsk — Active Jewish Teens (AJT) coordinator
- About 2 1/4 lb. potatoes (1 kg)?
- 1 egg?
- 1 onion?
- 3 tbsp. flour?
- 3 garlic cloves, minced?
- Salt, to taste?
- Pepper, to taste?
- Oil, for frying?
- Grate the potatoes using a coarse grater, and squeeze out excess liquid. (You can grate with a fine grater, but the coarse side will make your draniki extra crispy).
- Grate onion and garlic with the fine side of the grater.
- Add flour, egg, salt, and pepper, to the other ingredients, and mix together.
- Form patties, and fry in the oil, two minutes on each side.
- Serve with sour cream, fried mushrooms or fried onions, and fresh herbs, like dill or parsley.
AJT was founded in 2014 by local teens and JDC, in partnership with BBYO, the world’s largest pluralistic Jewish teen movement. Today, AJT is powered by a partnership with the Genesis Philanthropy Group and is part of the global BBYO movement.
Nina Aronovna Levinson, Vitebsk — JDC volunteer who is “the face” of daily Zoom sessions for the elderly called “Nina’s Library”
Have you ever seen people waiting in line to get a dranik (latke)? I saw it once in Israel.
The Belarusian Embassy organized an exhibition of contemporary artists with roots in Belarus. My son, who lives in Israel, was among them, and I came from Vitebsk to Jerusalem to see his work. Many people admired his art, and I was so happy!
Then something amazing happened: The door opened, and the ambassador came out with a large tray — no, not a tray, but a mountain of latkes! Everyone who was at the opening got in line just to get one! Draniki or latkes is a favorite food here in Belarus and in Israel, and we are proud that our two countries share this culinary heritage.
My mother’s recipe adds 1 to 2 tbsp. of sour cream and 1 to 2 tbsp. of flour to the grated potatoes. Then, she took a small onion, grated it, and added it to the mixture to prevent the potatoes from losing their color. She’d then add salt, ground black pepper, and an egg. You may choose to add dill or parsley, too.
To make the draniki, pour sunflower oil into a preheated pan, and fry the pancakes until they’re golden. Top the hot latkes with melted butter, and serve with sour cream. They’re so delicious!
Ida Shenderovich, Mogilev — community initiatives and volunteer coordinator for her city’s JDC-supported Jewish community
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, when we witnessed the “renaissance” of Jewish life in our cities, I was a young mother whose daughter had just started to attend kindergarten — the very first Jewish kindergarten. I found it so special that the parents and the children were exploring their Jewish identity together; for some families, they were building it from scratch.
That was 25 or so years ago, and I still remember our first Chanukah. Each family had an assignment, and my role was simple — I had to make latkes for our festive dinner, enough for 20 families with children. I don’t even remember how many potatoes I had to peel, but luckily someone brought me a food processor so I didn’t have to grate them manually.
Here’s my recipe, which is very simple and requires just a few ingredients — onions, potatoes, and sour cream. Finely grate potatoes and onions, add a tablespoon of sour cream, add salt to taste, and fry in oil. Like with most things, more oil is better.
Today, I’m proud to say I am working with three and sometimes four generations of Jewish community members.
Today, I’m proud to say I am working with three and sometimes four generations of Jewish community members. I can see how our lives have changed. Today, we cannot gather at a festive table in person due to COVID-19, but those who were children 20 to 30 years ago have grown into wonderful, caring adults who pass our Jewish values and knowledge further. I am sure their children will keep gathering to light Chanukah candles and live meaningful Jewish lives.
As for me, your curator, here’s my recipe:
It’s actually my great grandmother’s, and it comes from Kaunas, in present-day Lithuania.
Take potatoes and grate them together with onion using the coarse side of the grater. Squeeze out the liquid, and add a tablespoon of potato starch, along with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir the mixture, and fry the pancakes in oil. An egg is optional.
Your final product, which will be delicious, will look like a hashbrown. Serve your draniki with huckleberry jam.
Marina Gatskan, 34, is the FSU regional coordinator for JDC’s Kaplan Leadership Initiative and serves as the PR and missions coordinator in JDC’s Belarus office. She lives with her family in Minsk.