Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Latkes: There Can Never Be Too Little, Too Late

Scrolling through my posts I realized I hadn't included one of the cheapest, easiest and oldest recipes in my repertoire: latkes. The pancakes themselves are composed of three to five ingredients, depending on just how good of a chef you are. This is a dish traditionally eaten during Hanukkah although it can be enjoyed any time of the year. Still, this is a wintery food to me, maybe because the potatoes and onions are sometimes all you've got to work with this time of year.

Despite my mother's near-neurotic insistence that potatoes are NOT truly Russian/Jewish/Ashekenazi fare, I'm classifying latkes under all three. She is correct, technically: potatoes were cultivated in the Americas and weren't brought to Europe until around the 18th century. Peter the Great can be credited with bringing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables into the Russian tradition, with potatoes becoming a staple due to their ability to grow in the harsh climate. Before potatoes, however, turnips and other similar root vegetables were used not only in Russian cuisine but in Western Europe as well. So while turnips have been substituted with potatoes, the dishes themselves and the methods used date much further back.

One word of advice before I bestow my recipe: if you're not familiar with using a grater, this will take you much longer than it should. I'm normally a do-it-by-hand girl but seeing as I have injured said hands on cheese graters way too many times in my earlier days, I recommend using a food processor with a shredder feature if you have one. If not, grab a cheese grater and start at it. With some practice you'll be safely shredding by hand in no time but don't rush things, lest the thought of grated knuckle in your potatoes is appealing.

You will need:

2 lbs potatoes, shredded (I leave the skin on, they're easier to grip while grating and add some nutrition)
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 medium onion, grated (this is harder to grate than the potatoes so leave one end intact to grip)
1/4 c flour
"1.5 of oil in a shallow pan

Shred the onion first -- its juices will stop the reaction that causes potatoes to turn pink when cut. Follow with the potatoes and mix well. Mix in the eggs and salt, then finally the flour. Heat the oil over the medium setting and, forming a round about the size of your palm and placing it on a spatula, slide it into the oil. I can usually cook 2-3 latkes at a time but remember that they will cook faster the fewer you attempt each round. Cook each side until browned and place on paper to absorb any excess grease. Keep adding, flipping and setting aside the rounds until you're out of potato -- there should be liquid left over. Don't be alarmed if you see it start to pool soon after mixing all of the ingredients. I just get rid of it once I'm done.

There are a number of condiments to serve these with; the traditional Hanukkah way is with applesauce, but that's not to everyone's taste, especially year-round. My personal favorite is sour cream and chopped pickles. Ketchup or pepper, salt and vinegar tend to be popular as well.

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