Jewish

Can You Latke That? Parsnip Edition

March  8, 2018

It isn’t Hanukkah without latkes. Or at least, not in America, in New Jersey, in the house where I grew up. Across the ocean, in Israel, it is Hanukkah without latkes. There, yeast-raised, deep-fried, jelly-filled doughnuts—known as sufganiyot—are the chosen holiday fare. But here, the Festival of Lights brings countless potatoes, shredded, bound with egg and flour, seasoned with salt, shallow-fried until crispy, then plop-plopped with applesauce and sour cream. My comfiest comfort food. And I never eat it outside those eight nights.

A couple theories why: One, if you eat anything eight nights in a row, you probably won’t want it again for several months. Same reason why I don’t eat matzo outside Passover. Well, that, and store-bought matzo needs a lot of help. But anyway: Two, something about having latkes year-round feels odd, like inviting a bunch of friends over mid-June and they say, What’re we having? and you say, I’m roasting a whole turkey! With stuffing! And cranberry sauce!

But then, every so often, sometime during those other 357 days of the year, I get a latke craving. Unseasonal, unexplainable, undeniable. This recipe is my reconciliation: in the Hanukkah spirit, but it doesn’t have to be December, and you don’t have to light the menorah or exchange presents. Though, presents, ahem, are always welcome!

One dollop for me, one dollop for you! Photo by Julia Gartland

Latkes

Potato pancakes, make way for parsnip pancakes. Growing up, parsnips always appeared in my matzo ball soup, chopped and boiled until tender. It wasn’t until recently that I realized crispy-edged, caramelized parsnips are a total dream. Here, they take the place of potatoes—more or less, a one-to-one substitution. Onion tags along, too.

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To bind or not to bind? In Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, Michael Solomonov advocates for the simplest of latkes: “I had to work at a northern Italian restaurant to learn how to make great latkes (sorry, Mom),” he writes. “The trick is to use pure potato. There is more than enough starch in the potatoes to bind the latkes without using egg or flour.” That’s one way of doing it, much like a Swiss rösti. In the Laperruque household, we keep it old-school. I like the fluffy, frittery personality that eggs and flour lend. The dry parsnips need a little more encouragement, too. You can replace this flour with matzo meal or even ground oats.

Shred it up. I use the large holes on a grater or, if I’m lucky, the large hole grater attachment on a food processor. Some potato pancakes shred the potatoes finely, so they’re practically ground, creating a more cohesive, pancakey pancake. But the craggy, frilly, uneven edges are my favorite part.

Scoop and smash. I learned latke-frying this way: Form a patty in your hand. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze out excess liquid. Gingerly add to the oil. Try not to burn yourself. This technique is a lot easier: Get a 1/3-cup measuring cup, fill, and turn out into the oil. Use a spatula to smash into a patty, like a burger.

Sauces

The classic question is: Applesauce or sour cream? But why should we have to pick? Don’t we deserve to have it all? We do. And we will!

Chunky apple chutney. When I was little, I always opted for sour cream over applesauce. In fact, my family rarely had applesauce around because none of us cared for it. It’s very soft, verging on bland, all of which becomes even more problematic next to a big-personality potato parsnip pancake. This update fixes that. Instead of being puréed or run through a food mill, the apples are roughly chopped. And instead of being mildly cooked, they’re seared in a pan, caramelizing alongside fennel and caraway seeds, red onion, and golden raisins, with lots of cider vinegar and a splash of red wine.

Horseradish yogurt. Tangy, thick Greek yogurt is a workhorse. It can be a breakfast in and of itself, a mayonnaise stand-in for egg or tuna or chicken salad, a creamy pasta sauce, a chocolate mousse, a chocolate cake, a bird, a plane, Superman! My point is: I always have it around. Sour cream, not so much. You can use any fat content—0% or 2% or whole-milk—but the last is preferred here. When you buy prepared horseradish, do check the ingredients. A lot of brands add sugar, which defeats the whole purpose. My go-to, Kelchner’s, includes horseradish, distilled vinegar, water, and salt. Stir the two ingredients together, to taste, and remember, the chutney is sweet. If your eyes well up a little, well, that’s just right.

What are your family’s latke traditions? Do you ever eat them not on Hanukkah? Share in the comments!

1 Comment

creamtea March 8, 2018
that's the way I make latkes too: a 1/4 or 1/3 cup measuring cup. I flatten them in the frying oil with the bottom of the the same cup. We recently streamed a segment of Delicious Destinations featuring Rösti with a side of sautéed apples mixed with horseradish, which sounded delicious! So your parsnip latkes with sides of apple chutney and Greek yogurt mixed with horseradish sounds similarly delicious!