Rich in tradition, memories and taste, the beloved potato latke is certainly a cherished foodstuff, its widespread adulation paramount as Hanukkah nears. This year, I challenge you to dig a bit deeper and explore the vibrant underworld of the potato's fellow subterranean dweller: the root vegetable.
And what a colorful world you'll find. Gnarly, bumpy, round, smooth and stick-like reign amongst the sub-terrestrial taproot, where dull brown is merely marginal. Royal purple and creamy white carrots mingle alongside their greater-known orange relatives, and rich amethyst turnips fade smoothly into winter white -- or pop out in a startling shade of magenta. Varied in color, texture and taste, the potato pales in comparison to these flamboyant roots.
The taproots maintain the pure, earthy taste signature to a complex carbohydrate; yet have the luxury of being sans starch. Trimmed in carbs and cals, this means that you can eat more quantity for fewer calories compared to the potato -- a.k.a., more latkes! Your taste buds will delight in the unique flavors of each variety: a sugary sweetness from the parsnip, or peppery bite from the daikon radish. It is these very flavor subtleties that will clue you in to which spices and bulbs to incorporate to complete your perfect latke.
The fun of the recipe lies in its creativity; feel more than free to use your imagination! No matter what combination you try, the taproots are so mild in taste that fried with eggs and flour, they are bound to be tasty. I dare you to take the most grotesque looking root vegetable you can find (think celeriac, wasabi root) and turn it into a lovable latke. I have no doubt you will succeed.
How about pairing sweet parsnip with buttery leeks and a dash of nutmeg? Maybe scallions along with the daikon radish, to keep in Japanese theme. Add garam-masala to turnip and onion for a nod to Indian cuisine. Or whisk together carrot, dill and cumin to deliver a refreshing burst of herbs -- plus an aesthetically startling color rainbow.
You know the drill: top with applesauce, sour cream or ketchup. Or try a simple apple pear mash for a seasonal twist on the much-loved accompaniment. So go ahead, experiment! I'd love to know: what's your favorite kind of latke?
Root Vegetable Latkes with Apple Pear Mash
Yield: 16 latkes
4 cups grated parsnip, turnip, carrot, daikon radish or other root vegetable
1 cup bulb (onion, scallions, leeks, or shallot)
3-4 eggs, beaten
⅓ cup whole wheat flour
dash of salt & pepper
2 tsp desired spice (nutmeg, cinnamon, garam-masala, cumin, coriander, etc.)
2 tbsp herbs (dill, parsley, cilantro, etc.)
Canola or olive oil
1. Transfer grated vegetables into a colander, and sprinkle with salt. Let stand for 10 minutes. Strain, and then squeeze out excess moisture by wrapping tightly in a paper towel or dish cloth.
2. If making multiple types of latkes, combine three eggs, flour, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Combine each type of grated vegetable, bulb, spice and herb in its own bowl. Distribute egg/flour mixture evenly amongst all types. If making one type of latke, combine all ingredients together in a large bowl. If batter is not binding or looks too dry, add the remaining egg. Mix thoroughly.
Over medium or medium-high heat, heat enough oil so it covers the entire bottom of large saucepan, about 1/4 inch thick. Drop batter by 1/4-cupful into sizzling pan. Press down lightly with spatula. Cook for two to three minutes on each side, until latkes are nicely browned.
Preheat oven to 425° F. Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick spray or olive oil spritzer. Drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto cookie sheet. Flatten with spatula. Bake for 25 minutes; flip and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until latkes are browned and crispy.
Apple Pear Mash
2 red apples, cored and cut into eighths
2 ripe Bartlett pears, cored and cut into eighths
1 thick slice lemon
1 cinnamon stick, or dash of cinnamon spice
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
1/2 cup water
1. Place apples, pears, lemon, cinnamon, ginger and water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer, stirring often, until apples are completely tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Remove the lemon and cinnamon. Let sauce cool slightly, and transfer to a blender. Puree until smooth. Serve with warm latkes.