There are rare instances when tradition and trend happily unite. Latkes (potato pancakes) are ready for a makeover. I don't want to tell you how to make latkes (but I will link you to my basic recipe). I want to tell you how to make your latkes better.
Latke trouble -- or tsuris if you like to bemoan fate in Yiddish -- is fairly standard. If you grate potatoes, form patties and fry, you're likely to get crisp potatoes on the outside and underdone potatoes on the inside. If you add some egg as a binder (and they really need a little binder) the already weepy potatoes ooze even more liquid into the sputtering oil. Pureeing some of the potatoes helps a little, and adding a little flour or some breadcrumbs (or tapioca flour if you're gluten free) helps a little more.
What's a cook to do? For starters, I like to par-cook my grated potatoes by steaming them for 5 - 10 minutes - depending on quantity and type of potato. They'll be undercooked, but soft enough to form great pancakes when combined with a little egg and optional extras.
The trendy stuff comes in the form of those options.
- Sautee a leek or two until golden brown, and add to the mix;
- Add some sweet potato - steamed and finely grated;
- Add a little finely diced apple or pear that's been tossed with 2 tablespoons of all purpose flour - I served this as a pre-class hors d'oeuvre last week and got requests for the recipe;
- Add some roasted-or steamed-then-mashed parsnips, or carrots, or golden beets, or celery root...
More trendy stuff comes with the accompaniments. Tradition says latkes go with applesauce and/or sour cream. I make my own applesauce with a 50/50 mix of sweet apples like Golden Delicious and tart apples like Macintosh or Granny Smith. I use a little sugar. I also add a pat of butter, a little salt and pepper, and a bay leaf or two. Put all the ingredients in a pot and cook until bubbly. I use a potato masher after removing the bay leaf because I like my applesauce chunky. You can always puree in a food processor. The longer you simmer the more caramelized the flavor. Stop cooking if you start to see black. That's carbon. Brown food tastes good, black food is tsuris...
Other good sides for your latkes are pickled ginger if you've included sweet potato, cranberry sauce, 50/50 cranberry-apple sauce, and harissa (a spicy middle east condiment). You can tone down the harissa my mixing it with some sour cream.
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Give yourself a gift this Hanukkah/holiday season; make some latkes. Make the gift even better by wrapping it in something different, trendy, and tasty.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.