giant latkes with apples
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Latkes are crispy shredded potato pancakes, traditionally served for the Jewish celebrations of Hanukkah. They are usually served with sour cream or smoked fish and are not often the cause of childhood trauma, as was my case…
Latkes, or potato pancakes, were a bane of my childhood. Everyone apart from me loved them, so they were dished out frequently. Poland amongst other parts of Eastern Europe had adopted much of Jewish cuisine with gusto and made the dishes paying no mind to the original traditions. I used to wish we WERE Jewish – these traditional treats are only made once a year, for Hanukah. I had a plateful in front of me at least once a month.
The classic toppings latkes are supposed to be served with are savoury; well it’s crispy, salty fried potato and onion after all. Soured cream, smoked salmon, caviar, roasted beetroot, salt beef slices – that all makes sense and goes very well I imagine. I imagine – because for some weird reason the non-orthodox placki were served thickly sprinkled with sugar. EEEEK?! Exactly.
I don’t know where the idea of having sweets for dinner came from, I can’t think of anywhere else in the world that would do the same apart from an odd parsnip cake at dim-sum or Thanksgiving sweet potato bake. The Polish way is crêpes as a main course, pasta dressed with sweet cottage cheese topping, dumplings stuffed with blueberries; and if I ever pluck up enough courage, I’ll tell the tale of fruit soups dished out as starters.
Thus I have no affinity to those particular tendrils of my roots. Dessert on my dinner plate? No way. No problem with a bit of chocolate sauce on the chicken or sweet fruity sauce as accompaniment to duck, but the supporting role is as much as I’m willing to give.
I suspect the bleak communist-regime period is to blame: with constant shortages of almost everything we resorted to turning (cheap and made from available ingredients) desserts into mainstream sustenance. It was a huge hit with children apart from belligerent me. And I hear it still overhangs even among millennials, probably through nostalgic memories of the boiled rice with cream and cinnamon that Babcia used to cook for them on the sly.
I cooked them nostalgically too; sometimes you discover that things you used to abhor are not too horrid. I omitted the onion from the mix because I think latkes are better without, even if served with strictly savoury toppings. I also discovered the classic pairing of latkes with barely sweet apple compote which kind of hits the right taste spot. And thirdly – I served them for brunch not for dinner. There – my childhood latke demons rest in peace.
giant latkes with applesServings: 2-3Time: 30 minutes
- 1-2 large potatoes
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp. potato flour
- 2 tbsp. butter, melted
- oil, for frying
- For the roasted apple topping:
- 1 large cooking apple
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 tsp butter
This makes one, pizza-style, giant latke which is good for sharing.
1. Peel the potatoes and coarsely grate them using a hand grater or the food processor. Soak them in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Peel, core and cut the apple into 1cm dice. Toss it with the lemon juice, sugar and vanilla extract and spread in a baking dish. Dot with the butter. Bake for 20 minutes stirring the apples once or twice. Set aside to cool.
3. Preheat a large heavy frying pan over medium heat until almost smoking.
4. Drain the potatoes and scrape them into a tea towel or several layers of muslin cloth; twist the ends tightly and squeeze as much liquid from the potatoes as you possibly can’ the dryer they will be, the better. Sprinkle the salt and potato flour, drizzle the melted butter and toss and mix with the potatoes in a bowl with your fingers, fluffing them up.
5. When the pan is very hot, pour in enough oil to cover the bottom. Scrape the potatoes out of the bowl and spread them to cover the bottom of the pan. Using a spatula, tidy them in the pan into a round and flatter lightly but don’t press down too much. Cook for 5 minutes over medium heat until the bottom is dark golden and crisp.
6. Flip the pancake: cover the pan with a large plate and invert it so the cooked side is uppermost. Slide the pancake back into the pan to cook the other side for about 5 minutes again.
7. When the bottom is golden and crisp, slide the pancake onto a plate lined with paper towels to drain the fat. Transfer onto a serving plate or board, slice like a pizza and serve topped with the apples.