We’re having a party. A Chanukah party. In The Mother-in-Law’s House.
As any abiding and courtly daughter-in-law would do, I asked The Mother-in-Law if we could invite a few family members and friends round to celebrate the most popular winter festival in the Jewish social calendar. And honestly, it was just as much a surprise to me as it was to her – when she read the group email that I sent round and copied her into – that the ‘few’ grew into a FUN 55, a bevy of local friends, long-distant family, and their kinfolk. (You can’t really have a party if you don’t fill your home to the max. Right?) The fact that I asked her whilst she was codeined-up to the eyeballs in bed with a bad back should definitely, definitely be overlooked, Your Honour.
But I’ve shot myself in the foot. These people are coming on the premise that they will be tasting traditional festival foods, which means I have to make three million home-made doughnuts and 10 million potato latkes. Basically, I’ll be camped out in The Mother-in-Law’s Kitchen for the next 14 nights.
So, in advance of the leviathan fry-up, I thought I’d perfect my recipe for latkes.
Latkes are probably the most famous of all Chanukah food, served either as an appetiser or an accompaniment to the main meal. (Growing up, salt beef brisket was never without the love of a latke in my family’s hamishe equivalent of a Sunday roast.) By Jove, some radicals even serve it as a pudding! (If you want to know more about the history of the latke read what I wrote about them this time last year.)
My recipe for latkes is a love triangle of three great staple winter root vegetables – the potato, the parsnip and the onion – with the addition of a little spice in the shape of nutmeg.
Parsnips are often described as having taste notes of nutmeg, which, as Niki Segnit points out in her fabulous book, ‘The Flavour Thesaurus‘, is because both share one of the same organic natural compounds, myristicin. Myristicin also has psychoactive properties – with cases reported of intoxication and excited states bought on by recreational use of nutmeg – so it can’t be a bad addition to party food. (The other little fact that nutmeg is poisonous in high doses should warn you not to offend your hosts around the festive season.)
As always, I encourage using organic ingredients where possible. I also use coconut oil as it is the most heat stable (and therefore healthy) of oils when cooked to a high temperature. Odourless oil is best as it doesn’t impart that tropical, sun-creamy flavour that the raw oil will.
Serve your latkes with a scattering of chopped capers (always an excellent friend to the earthy potato) and parsley, and a dollop of yoghurt. (Although traditionally sour cream is used, I find yoghurt is lighter but still offers the coolness that cuts through the lubricous latke.)
Serves 4 as an appetiser or side dish
1 white onion
2 medium-sized eggs
2 tablespoons potato flour (or cornflour if unavailable)
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
100ml odourless coconut oil for frying
A handful of capers, rinsed and chopped
Freshly chopped parsley
Peel and grate the potatoes, parsnips and onion.
Place in a fine mesh sieve and wash under cold running water. (We do this to remove the starch.)
Using your hands squeeze out the excess water and then tip the mixture onto a clean, dry tea towel and pat dry with another towel. Set aside to dry completely.
In a large mixing bowl and using a whisk, beat together the eggs along with the nutmeg, salt and pepper, and finally the potato starch. Mix well until you have a creamy consistency.
Now fold in the grated veg.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Pick up about 2 tablespoon’s of the latke mix with your hands and squeeze out the excess liquid once again. Drop carefully into the hot oil and, using the back of a spoon or spatula, flatten down to about 2cm thickness.
Fry until brown on both sides and then drain on kitchen paper. Keep warm while you cook the remaining latkes, if you can resist gobbling them up.
Serve with a dollop of yoghurt, and a scattering of chopped capers and parsley.
Alternative serving suggestion: for a sweet latke, remove the onion, salt and pepper from the recipe and serve with yoghurt, honey and fresh lemon juice.