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Showing posts with label Ashkenazi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ashkenazi. Show all posts

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Easy Potato Latkes

You can practically hear the sizzle, can't you?
I go to the Brookside farmer's market every Saturday during market season and always get produce from my favorite vendors is Urbavore Urban Farms, run by Brooke Salvaggio, who has become a friend. In the early seasons she has plants as well as produce, but she always has something that I want to buy, usually the eggs from the heritage breed chickens. That being said, I'm a big fan of the later season, when potatoes come up.

While only 200 different varieties of the noble potato grows in Northern America(yes, I did say 'only'), over 4,000 different varieties grow in Bolivia. Potatoes, like tomatoes, pumpkins, avocados, coffee, and chocolate, are an American crop. Why? Because they originate in South/Central America!

Image result for hot tea
This tea is BOMB
Yes, yes, you hear about the miracle crop being tied to Ireland all the time, but a little digging in the world of culinary anthropology will tell you that potatoes originate right here in the Americas. Pumpkins, corn, tomatoes, coffee, and chocolate - yes, chocolate, are categorized under all-American treats. In fact, the only reason that Italy has tomatoes, and therefore marinara sauce, is because of its expeditions to the Americas.

I'm sure that there are some among us that would like to believe that America itself was cultivated from all over the world, but the truth is that they had their own culture and unique biodiversity before Europeans came to colonize and spread syphilis and smallpox and introduce slave labor to the indigenous peoples. But I digress, this blog is not about tea.

This is about potatoes, and specifically the brand/breed of potato called purple viking. Yes, potatoes have different breeds. We've established this, please keep up.

It kind of looks like a dinosaur egg, don't you think?
This is a purple viking potato. It can grow to be nice and large, and has a creamy white flesh. I love the color, of course, and am always a big fan of unusual things. Did you know that the best way to  be healthy is to have a diverse diet? This doesn't always mean entirely different things every day - sometimes it's just trying a different variety of a vegetable/root you already love! Do you love orange carrots? Try white ones, roasted. Try purple ones, steamed. Eat the entire rainbow without every changing around.

Generally, potatoes can be set into two categories: starchy and waxy. A starchy potato, such as a classic Idaho/baking potato, will have a thick skin and will go a sort of pinkish brown if peeled and left out. They're high in starch but quite low in moisture, and are rather fluffy when cooked.

The starchy potatoes are considered to be the best for making french fries and - by some schools - mashed potatoes. The trouble, though, is that from starch comes glue if over-agitated, which is why sometimes your mashed potatoes might go gloopy if you stir them too much. The skin on said starchy potatoes, as well, are best for doing twice-baked potatoes and, in general, being vessels for other things. They don't exactly hold their shape well, however, so it's best if you do not use them for gratins, casseroles, or potato salads. For some reason, however, they're considered to be a classic for latkes by many.

The waxy potato is it's thinned-skined brethren, which are very low in starch and generally hold their shape quite well when cooked. When it comes to nearly every application, I'll take a waxy over a starchy any day of the week. I think that they're much more versatile, and I can whip the ever-living bejeezus out of them when making mashed potatoes and they won't go gloopy unless I screw something up. They're suitable in gratins, fries, and - of course - latkes.

See? CREAMY white flesh!
There are many schools of thought when it comes to these classic Ashkenazi potato fritter, and some will swear that a starchy potato is the best. I assume that this is because it's the tradition, but I find that this isn't true.

When you grate the potatoes, you must soak and rinse them to get rid of as much starch as possible, otherwise the latke will go gloopy. Now, why in the world would I start with an already-starchy product that might not hold its shape so well were I to use a not-so-starchy product in its stead? I tell you, dear reader, that I wouldn't, especially because the purple viking potato only needs one good rinse to get rid of the starch versus the four or five that your standard Russett or Idaho might need.

Many say you can grate in lots of other flavors into the potato - and you can! You can grate in half an onion, some garlic, plenty of herbs, and more. This is your latke and you can decide what to do with it. Yes, it was created by the Ashkenazi peoples (or so I'm told) but everybody can agree that these are delicious and that deep-fried potatoes can and should be for everyone. I like to use a 2:1 ratio if I'm adding in white onion to the fritter. Say, I do two large purple viking potatoes and one medium white onion with just a touch of salt and pepper - delicious! But this is the basic recipe, so just do what you like after you've tried this one.

Nowadays, you would mostly eat this around Hanukkah and serve it with apple sauce and/or sour cream. I like them with breakfast, any day of the week. Sue me.

Easy Latkes
yields 6 fritters
  • 1 large Purple Viking potato
  • 1 egg
  • A touch of salt
  • Neutral oil to fry in, such as canola or grapeseed 
Grate the potatoes using the largest side of your box grater and pop them into a mesh strainer. Rinse them quite thoroughly until the water runs clear, and then ring out the water in small handfuls to get them as dry as you can. Pop these in a medium bowl and season generously. Crack in one fresh egg and mix well, breaking up the yolk and white and coating absolutely everything in that bowl. As mentioned previously, you can add fresh herbs to this - I like parsley and dill, personally, but that's me.

Heat a thick yet shallow skillet with about an inch of oil to medium-high heat. Test the heat by dropping in one or two shreds of the egg-potato mixture. If it floats and sizzles, you're good to go. 

Gently lay in heaping spoonfuls of the latke mixture into your oil and press gently down in the middle to create a flat pancake. Swirl it carefully to just make sure that it didn't stick to the bottom, and then add in another. I can fit up to three latkes at a time in my pan, but don't you overload your oil because it lowers the temperature. 


Protip: You want the oil to be rather hot because things only get greasy when the oil is too cold and the oil seeps in. If it's hot enough, the water on the inside of the item you're frying will turn to steam and create a barrier for the oil to not get into, kind of like it when the footballers of the sportsball team do that head-butt thing at the beginning of the plays. 

Flip them gently with a fork or a pair of chopsticks, taking care not to splash yourself wit hot oil, and cook on the other side. The entire process shouldn't take more than two minutes in total, and the finished latkes can hold in a warm oven while you cook the rest. 

Please also make sure that you save the fat in a jar or a metal can and allow to cool before disposing of. Please don't throw it outside as it's bad for your homestead/garden, and please don't dump it down the drain. You can strain it and reuse it once or twice, but you can just pitch it in your can safely in a garbage bag once it's all used up. 



Serve these with breakfast, lunch or dinner! Latkes are truly a diverse food item and I encourage you to try them using all potatoes. (Just maybe not all at once.) Please also be sure to make an effort to get down to the farmer's market! This is, of course, to get better food, but it's also to get to know your growers. I'm going to let you in on a little secret...

The people that are making an effort against big chain grocery stores and taking food back to basics are the people you want to have a conversation with. Ask them questions, have them tell you the story of that crop. Connection with your fellow human is what the world needs right now, and the fellowship over food is truly what can unite us, instead of divide us.

Here in America, we are dealing with political turmoil unlike any in recent memory. If I have any international readers, I want them to know that we all want this to end, and that we are not horrible bigots. We Americans are loving and welcoming and we believe that immigrants make America great. As someone who's worked in the culinary industry her entire professional life, you would be starving were it not for immigrants and migrant workers. They cook your food, they harvest your crops, they do all of the hard jobs that you don't want to do, often with a smile. I welcome the immigrants and I want them to know that I'm an ally. I am an American, and hatred has no home in my backyard.

Happy cooking and happy eating! 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Date & Raisin Babka

Finally, an instagrammable dessert/breakfast that is simple and doesn't require a mirror glaze.
Okay, okay - I'll be the first to admit that 50 shades of dark brown doesn't necessarily sound appealing. I personally loathe the entire '50 Shades' franchise - it's a horrible caricature of what BDSM is actually supposed to be all wrapped up in a Twilight fanfiction. No, that's literally how it started. Look it up. Die mad about it.

What was I talking about again? Oh, right.

So, I'm a newcomer to babka. My sister Ashley actually gave me the cutest little book called Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen by Miri Rotkovitz. This was a very sweet reference to the fact that I had recently discovered my Jewish heritage via an ancestry.com test. Of course, I loved the book immediately and thanked her. My dive in to Ashkenazi food has been kind of a blind one, and I'm all about good references from reputable sources.

Babka is, in essence, an enriched yeast dough that's filled with chopped dried fruits and nuts, rolled, artfully sliced, then baked in a loaf. There are about a million different swirls you can try with this as a base, and the Great British Bake-Off has covered a good amount of them. A povitica, in fact, is a version of a babka. We won't be getting into that, though, as it's far too complicated for me. We're sticking to the simple stuff, just to get you started.

Of course, I used the recipe as a guide for many babkas, but this one with dates and raisins was my favorite, and not just because it was my first one! I tried one with pistachios, with chocolate...this one was the best. Here's how I did it!

Date & Raisin Babka
adapted from Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen


  • 1/2 c soy or coconut milk
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 1 c liquid levain/sourdough starter***
  • 1 c white flour
  • 1 c rye flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 6 Tbsp coconut oil/vegan butter substitute
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 c dried, pitted dates, chopped
  • 1/2 c raisins
  • 1/4 c toasted pepitas, chopped
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbsp vegan butter substitute/coconut oil, melted
Note*** If you're not using a liquid levain/sourdough starter, you'll want to up your liquid to 1 cup of soy/coconut milk instead of the half cup. You may also want to add an extra pinch of yeast, just to get everything started.

Gently heat the 'milk' in the microwave or on the stove until just a little warmer than body temperature, add a heaping tablespoon of your measured sugar, and stir in the yeast. Leave in a warm place to froth, about 5 minutes.

Add your flours and salt together, and mix with the dough hook attachment on your standing mixer just to combine. Add in your liquid levain, if using, and stir for about 10 seconds, just to incorporate it. Add in your activated yeast liquid and turn on. Once your liquid is just combined, add in the egg. Allow to knead for about 5 minutes on medium-low speed. Add in your fat, which should be just a little cool to touch, about a spoonful at a time. I borrowed this idea from mixing in fat to a brioche. This, of course, is not a brioche, but the principle should still be basically the same. 

Once the fat is all incorporated, you should check your dough for the windowpane test. That just means that you take a tiny portion of your dough, roll it in a ball, and stretch it quite thin, that you should be able to see light through it. This tests that the glutens have developed. Once it has, remove your dough from the bowl and place it in another bowl that's been gently lubricated with oil and covered with plastic, and left to set in a warm place to rise, about an hour. This is the fermentation process, and your dough should double in size. This gives you plenty of time to clean up and do the filling!

Your dried fruit should be chopped rather finely. If you own a food processor, feel free to use it now to make a rather chunky paste combining all of the ingredients. I do not own a food processor, so I used a mortar and pestle to combine the fruit and nuts in a sort of homogeneous paste before adding the melted 'butter,' sugar and spices. 
This is a babka I made using raisins and chopped apricots; I chose this photo for you because the colors show up
a little more brightly, so therefore it's easier to see!

Once your dough has doubled in size, generously flour a marble slab (or your countertop if you're not a bougie jackass like me) and roll out your dough until it's about half an inch thick. Spread the filling mixture as evenly as you can over the surface, leaving about an inch for rolling room on opposite sides to get stuff to get started and to stick. Roll your dough up, nice and tight, into a nice long snake, and roll it gently out, just to seal the edges and to make it even. 

Next, break out the pan you intend to use and then use it to measure your dough and the places you want to cut it. Here's a tip, though: it's easier to roll out the log to make it thinner and longer than it is to squish it up to make it shorter and fatter. For example, if the log is a little too long for you to simply cut the roll in half and then twist those halves together, it would be simpler to roll out the dough into a longer log and then cut the dough in thirds or even fourths to get the desired effect. This  particular one was easy to make into halves, so I simply cut the log in half and twisted it together, sort of like one might make a candy cane. You can, of course, find video tutorials on how to make a babka, if you're not quite visualizing it with ease with the way I'm explaining it.

Apologies for the potato quality. I was shaky.

Once it's set up, all nice and snug, in its loaf pan, cover it and leave it to proof for another 45 minutes in a nice warm place. Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F. After it's baked, let it cool for at least 15 minutes in the pan before turning it out - this will allow it to be set enough to have it fall straight out of the pan without falling apart. 

You can let it cool to room temperature, of course, before serving, but I just love a nice warm babka. You can have it by the slice, smear it with cream cheese and berries, or make it into french toast. Seriously! It makes amazing french toast! And don't be afraid to experiment - dates, pistachios, raisins, sultanas, dried apricots, dried cherries...whatever! The only limit is your imagination!

Happy cooking and happy eating!