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Radio Kitchen #939 - Latkes 5-17-11
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A few weeks ago, during Passover, Al's wonderful neighbors Bill and Sara invited him to their home for a Seder. Having been raised a white bread suburban Presbyterian, it was a wonderful experience for him. The hosts and guests made Al feel very much at home, and since Sara is one of the best cooks we know, the table was covered with delicious food that is traditional for this feast.
One of the best things we came across were Sara's zucchini latkes, and that got us to thinking. What else would work? Of course, the latke is most closely associated with Jewish cuisine, although similar dishes exist in nearly every country that grows potatoes. Essentially, it is a potato pancake, made with grated potatoes, flour and egg and various seasonings. The latke can be served with savory toppings, such as sour cream, or with slightly sweeter things like applesauce or sugar. In Ukraine they are called "deruny", in Germany "reibekuchen", and in IrelandThey are called "boxty".
To make the potato variety, most potatoes will work, but the starchier they are, the better. The common baking potato is ideal. You'll want to grate the potatoes, either by hand or with a grating blade on your food processor (which is a lot faster). For best results, you want to dry out the grated potatoes by placing them in cheesecloth, and wringing the moisture out of them.
Most recipes call for a binder of flour and egg, salt, pepper and some finely diced onion for flavor. It's not unusual to find the ubiquitous matzo put in an appearance, as "bread crumbs" for the binder. Additional herbs and spices can be added at your own discretion. As for oil, we would opt for an oil with a high flashpoint, like peanut or canola oil, to avoid smokiness. Just add enough to coat the skillet. Heat up the oil over medium high heat. (Another tack altogether is to use chicken or goose fat, which would give incredible flavor.) The goal however is always to make a crispy latke.
Make your mixture and scoop out a very heaping tablespoon of potato mixture, place it in the pan and press down to make a roughly circular or oblong shape. Fry it on one side, then turn and fry it on the other. Take care not to scorch it.
You certainly are not restricted to potatoes for making latkes. Zucchini is a favorite ingredient. Of course sweet potatoes and yams work splendidly. Theoretically, any vegetable that can be grated is fair game. Turnips, pumpkin and winter squashes are all possibilities.
CLASSIC POTATO LATKES
* 2 cups peeled and grated Idaho potatoes
* 1/4 cup grated onion
* 3 large eggs, beaten
* 2 heaping tbs all-purpose flour
* salt and pepper
* 1/2 cup peanut oil for the skillet
- After grating the potatoes, place them in a large piece of cheesecloth and wring the excess moisture out of them.
- Combine the potatoes with the other ingredients, mixing them in a large bowl.
- Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in the peanut oil, and manage the heat to keep it from smoking. Drop a very heaping tablespoon of the latke mixture onto the skillet. Flatten it and let it fry until it turn golden brown. Turn the latke over and fry the other side. Drain on a paper towel, and serve hot.