A LATKE PRIMER:
FROM OLD SCHOOL HEART ATTACK STYLE TO A HEALTHY HANUKKAH AND A FEW FANCY FOODIE VERSIONS AS WELL.
I decided a few years ago that I wanted to thank my body for sticking it out with me through all the years I asked it to do a bunch of stupid shit. I traded my bong and my glass pipe in for running shoes. Daily probiotics have replaced uncharted pounds of gummi bears, and I generally choose to seek solace in meditation rather than unavailable women with great style. And maybe one of my favorite skills I’ve developed in being healthy is the flexibility of not trying to do everything so perfectly that it all ends up going to hell when I can’t swing the Impossible Dream. Which I rarely can. That’s why they call it Impossible. I just try do my best to fit in things that bring my life to a path that features serenity, with room for pit-stops at Mediocrity, The Best I Could Manage, and I Just Didn’t Feel Like It.
To that end, I’ve prepared a Latke compendium here that covers all kinds of versions of one of my favorite dishes that can accompany you on this same journey. Your traditional latke which offers, let’s face it, very little in nutritional fortitude, but then, so many other things! The traditional latke, for me, conjures up a steadfast feeling of comfort like almost nothing else. When I was a kid, I lived a suburban Jew existence in assimilationist tract neighborhoods. We seemed to ride a line between a pride of heritage and a scorn for any kind of militant indentityism that would bring a person into the harsh light of scrutiny. Each holiday season, a diligent Jewish Mom would tote a fryer into our public school classroom with a big bottle of Crisco “Vegetable” oil and a plate of pre-created latkes to fry up for the Christmas-celebrating majority of the school. My classrooms generally had 2 or 3 Jews apiece, and we always knew each other from Hebrew school or simply from this observation: Seinberg. Cohen. Goldstein. And everybody else knew too. Like most “otherings” in life, it is difficult to say just how the texture of being Jewish makes a girl know she’s different. For me it was something about minor chords from music featuring accordions, dark shul head coverings, and an undercurrent of always being in the process of study, our lives a series of Why renderings that brought more questions.
And there were the latkes. At school it’s one thing in open rooms, but at home, the smell would cling to the walls for all 8 nights of candles. And for me, that scent of fried potatoes was separate from all other fried potatoes. French fries don’t smell like latkes. Puffy potato pancakes from diners don’t smell like latkes. Only my mom’s latkes had that smell. I loved it. This was where difference felt triumphant and regal. This was where being baffled by reindeer and a massive cultural lie about a rotund laughing white man felt like a total WIN. I could put down my decoration envy and my longing for a needle, thread and a gargantuan bowl of popcorn in front of a black and white flickering Jimmy Stewart. It is a Wonderful Life, and this week it’s run by a march of beautiful lights, spinning tops, and potatoes. Who doesn’t love a goddang LATKE?!?!?
Since then, I have left my mother’s kitchen and my kitchen has a few other concerns aside from tradition. I have had a serious transformation around food and health, plus many of my loved ones have discovered food sensitivities, allergies and also adventurous spirits in the kitchen. And so I present to you, not just my mom’s latkes, but some gluten-free cakes, vegan options, and just plain exciting ways to get busy with a pancake this season.
Some things will always be true: Make more than you think you need because mere mortals will eat more latkes than you ever thought possible. Make your own applesauce because it’s apple season, it’s more delicious, and it’s easy as hell. You can even make your own crème fresh if sour cream isn’t really hitting the mark anymore. Plus bring in a cream option for your vegan pals as well. They will be the nicest ones to your dog at the party.
May you all gather. And may you all be warm in the joy of this festival.
As luck and a kind fate would have it, latkes are easy to make, if not kind of a pain in the ass. The cooking directions for the first recipe can be used for all the recipes. Basically, you grate, slice, mix, squeeze, and fry. BAM.
2 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes
1 medium onion, grated
1 c. matzo meal
3 chopped scallions
4 eggs, large
1T celery salt or sea salt
1t black pepper, freshly ground, coarse.
Canola oil to pan fry with.
Most people go ahead and get russet potatoes for latkes. My mom did. But me? I like a Yukon gold. They are starchier and sturdier, therefor holding the juices in a little better. That being said, I grew up on russets and something about those is comforting to me as well.
Preheat your oven to 200.
Put on an apron for crying out loud.
A cute one if possible.
Grate all your potatoes into a big ass mixing bowl. If you have a food processor, you will never be happier for it than at this moment. If not, maybe a friend or two would help for grating potatoes. Dice your onion small but you don’t have to get all perfectionist about it and throw that in the bowl too. Follow with scallion which I slice as thinly as possible. My mom didn’t use them at all, but I like the color. You could use chives to or omit if you like. Mix everything together after that and form your little pancakes.
Meanwhile heat your oil up in a fryer or a cast iron skillet. I make sure the bottom of the pan is shiny with oil and a little extra for the crisp, but not so much oil that folks is gonna keel ovah. Squeeze the excess moisture from the pancakes and lay them gently in the skillet/fryer. Brown on each side and then place them on a paper towel to soak up any excess oil you don’t need then transfer to an oven safe plate to keep warm while you the fry up the rest.
SWEET POTATO LATKES *These are both Vegan and Gluten Free
2 lbs grated sweet potatoes
¾ c chopped onion
2T coconut oil
½ c olive oil
¼ c diced fresh sage
BUTTERNUT SQUASH LATKES (adapted from the Mile End Cookbook. This is a gluten free AND vegan version using Bob’s Red Mill GF all purpose flour mix)
3 lb butternutnut squash, peeled, seeded, and grated
1 onion, grated
3 cloves garlic, crushed
½ c Bob’s Red Mill GF all-purpose flour
2 ripe, mashed bananas
1 t sea salt
½ t freshly grated black pepper
Canola oil for frying.
LEEK LATKES (adapted from the Smitten Kitchen recipe for Leek fritters)
1 lbs. leeks, dark green hacked off
1 lb. zucchini, grated
2 scallions, thinly sliced
½ c matzoh meal
½ t fresh ground black pepper
½ t smoked hot paprika
Canola for frying
On these you have to clean your leeks first. Often there is dirt and grit inside the pretty rings so slice them in half the long way after removing the dark green parts and soak them to get alla that grime business taken care of. Now cook your leeks in salted boiling water for about 3 minutes to soften. Set them aside to dry or wring them dry in a towel. Add them to the scallions in a big bowl. Then add in all your other ingredients and stir everything until the incorporation is even and looks fantastic. Continue with your frying directions and enjoy!
Tune in for Part 2 to make fixins!!!