Onion Goggles And Homemade Levivot (Israeli Latkes)

— by Ronit Treatman

It is time for my yearly Hanukkah conundrum.  Should I prepare levivot (Israeli latkes) from scratch, or succumb to the convenience of store bought frozen latkes?  I could also go with a box of powdered latke mix, which produces a hot, crispy, freshly fried latke.  I love preparing my own levivot from scratch.  It is part of the Hanukkah celebration for me.  Spending time together in the kitchen while peeling, grating, mixing, and frying is family bonding time.  The only thing I hate about making my own levivot is getting onion juice in my eyes.  Can this be avoided?

More after the jump.

Levivot are generally prepared with grated potatoes and onions.  As I pull out my potatoes, onions, graters, and peelers,  I’m not sure I want to prepare this from scratch.  

Onions always really burn my eyes.  That is because there is sulfuric acid in onions.  When it reaches the fluids in my eyes, this acid causes a burning feeling.  

I’ve wondered for years how to avoid getting the sulfuric acid into my eyes.  Several strategies have been suggested to me:

  • One is to immerse the onion in ice water before chopping it.  This will cool down the sulfuric acid, and delay the speed at which it is released into the air once the onion is grated.  
  • Another strategy is to chop the onion in the food processor where I won’t have to touch or smell it.  However, I enjoy the tactile feeling of peeling and grating the onions and potatoes by hand.  I love the smell of onion!

Now there is a wonderful new invention.  Onion Goggles to the rescue!  These plastic goggles have foam seals that surround my eye area and lock out onion fumes.  They have antifog lenses, so I can see what I am doing.  The only downside is that you can’t wear them over perscription glasses.  What a surreal experience it is to have a kitchen full of relatives in Onion Goggles cooking together!  It’s like cooking in 3D.  So strap on your Onion Goggles and get to work cooking these mouth watering levivot!

Latke ingredientsIsraeli Hanukkah Levivot


  • 5 potatoes
  • 2 onions
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • between 1/4 to 3/4 cup matzah meal
  • olive oil for frying


  1. Peel the potatoes and onions.
  2. Grate the potatoes and onions, and place in a large bowl.  
  3. Add the eggs, salt, pepper, and matzah meal.  Mix well.
  4. Heat one inch of olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high flame.
  5. Drop the levivot batter in by the tablespoon.  
  6. When the edges brown, flip the levivot over and flatten them with the spatula.  
  7. Cook the levivot until they are crispy, with a golden-brown color.
  8. Place them on paper towels to blot some of the olive oil.

Potato latkes, or levivot, are our Eastern European legacy.  Those Jewish communities used what was plentiful and inexpensive: potatoes.  In the United States latkes are traditionally served with apple sauce and sour cream.  In Israel, sugar is sprinkled over them.  Either way, be sure to serve them hot!



  1. says

    I have been told that the gas released by the onion is flammable, so if you have an old-fashioned gas stove, then simply turn on all four burners and leave them uncovered while you cut the onion on the area between the burners. I did this when I was growing up and it seems to work.

    According to Season Advice another idea is using a sharper knife:

    Avoid breaking cell walls
    The enzymes and amino acids involved in producing the Onion Lachrymatory Factor (seriously!) are normally contained in the cells, and only become a problem when released in volume. Using a sharper knife will avoid mangling cell walls, creating more clean separations between layers, and reducing the amount of enzymes released.

    Finally, my daughter says that if you don’t have special Onion Goggles, then regular swim goggles should work in a pinch.

  2. leebarzel says

    Another problem is when the potatoes turn an unappetizing gray color.  This year, I tried the latke recipe from The “The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate” by the University of Chicago Press and their technique to avoid discoloration of the potatoes is to immerse the potatoes in water before and after grating.  I find it works well if you shred the potatoes by hand- a half potato at a time- brushing the shreds into a large bowl of water.  The soaking also eliminates much of the starch.

    Hannah Lee

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