Simple Potato Latkes

December 6th, 2007  |  Published in All, Onion, Potatoes, Veritable Vegetables, Weeknight Recipes


Potatoes are one of those foods that I always seem to have around on my kitchen counter–purple, red, white, yellow, russet, sweet, yukon–I’ve got them all. I think the reason behind my ever present plethora of potatoes is that I always know I’ll have something wholesome to eat if per chance the rest of my refrigerator or vegetable basket dwindled to nothing. Even just sitting on the counter, a potato will last for months. I’d even venture to say that whatever potatoes you have on your counter will probably keep for longer than the time you have left of your apartment lease…

Until a few months ago, I had never made the connection between below-ground potatoes and above-ground plants, i.e. that potatoes actually flower! The potato as most of us know it (the tuber portion of the plant), indeed grows underground, hidden from sight and insulated from the cold of winter. But, during the spring and summer, a potato plant blends seamlessly with the rest of the vegetable garden, growing green gangly vines and producing delicate flowers. You might never know if, but the lowly potato, the plain jane of the tuber and root vegetable community, produces beautiful and delicate flowers come spring. The flowers come in a variety of colors, and I’d be curious to find out if they are correlated with the color of the tuber.

I’d say it’s accurate to think of the tuber portion of a potato plant as its personal savings account. During the late summer and early fall, the plant quits flowering and begins putting all of its energy into producing its underground tuber, a safe house to store energy over the winter. Insulated within the rich soil, the tuber over-winters without batting a figurative ‘eye’. Come springtime, the potato plant comes out of its hibernation and starts sprouting buds by tapping the tuber energy reserve.

Photo of Potato Blossom from Mariquita Farms in Watsonville

(Image of potato blossom from Mariquita Farms in Watsonville, CA)

So, potatoes.
Potatoes lend themselves very well to the simplest of preparations–mashed with a little butter and milk, roasted with herbs, shredded and fried for breakfast, baked, and even baked twice mixed with cheese and sour cream. Potatoes are extremely versatile, and are easy to work with with even the tiniest inkling of culinary imagination.

These potato pancakes, also called latkes, don’t take too much imagination at all, and somehow they feel like a true, down-home comfort food. The other night when Steven and I sat down to our dinner of Potato Latkes with applesauce and a simple green salad, the conversation turned quickly to his Jewish Grandmother. ‘Mmmmm…. these are almost as good as my grandmother’s latkes’, Steven said to me. I’ll take that as a compliment because, really, is anything ever as good as grandmother’s?

According to Steven, latkes and applesauce are a traditional accompaniment to slow-cooked brisket. For my own meal, I paired the latkes with applesauce, a simple green salad, and a glass of not-too-sweet riesling for a light autumn supper.

Simple Potato Latkes
make 8 latkes, serves 2 with leftovers
The original recipe is from Epicurious, but I’ve halved the recipe and increased the cooking time

1/2 medium onion, peeled
2-3 medium russet potatoes (about 1 3/4 pounds), peeled.
1 large egg
1 T flour
Salt and Pepper
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Applesauce to accompany

Preheat oven to 200°F. Place a nonstick baking sheets (or a regular sheet lined with parchment paper) in oven.

Grate the onion and potatoes using the large holes of a box grater. Add to colander and set aside to drain.
In large mixing bowl, lightly beat eggs, then whisk in flour.

Press potatoes and onion to extract as much liquid as possible, then add to egg/flour mixture. Season with about 1/2 t. salt and 1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper, or to taste. Using wooden spoon or hands, mix well, but do not overwork.

In heavy-bottomed, 12-inch skillet over medium high heat (non-stick works well here), heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter until hot but not smoking. Drop 4 scant 1/4-cup portions of potato mixture into pan and flatten with spatula to form four 3-inch pancakes. Latkes are supposed to be a little ‘loose’, so don’t flatten too much.

Fry without disturbing until bottoms are golden-brown, 7 to 8 minutes, then turn over and fry until golden-brown and crisp, an additional 5 to 7 minutes, being careful not to let bottoms burn. Transfer to paper towels to drain; season immediately with a little more salt and pepper. Keep warm on baking sheets in oven while making remaining pancakes.

Using paper towels, carefully wipe out pan. Add 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter and fry 4 more pancakes.

Serve pancakes hot with applesauce.

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