Potato-Parsnip Latkes


This traditional Hanukkah dish is such a joy to have on the plate. Accompanied with homemade applesauce and a sour cream (or crème fraiche) and horseradish, they are a real treat: crunchy on the edges, creamy inside, and the little bit of oil that makes that texture possible is lightened by the accompaniments.

There’s a reason foods become traditional.

This year, 2017, as Alabama damn-near elected a real prince of a pedophile-racist-Christian nutcase, I shoveled snow here in Vermont with my wife, cleared the porch roof, shoveled again, and when it came time for brunch, made some latkes in celebration of narrowly averted catastrophe and a well-tended driveway.

A great deal of cooking has to do with minimizing problems and maximizing flavor. My contention is that time can help with both of these things and a little planning ahead reduces both the problems with a dish and the amount of time and concentrated attention required.

As usual, process is important. The recipe comes last and can be changed to include other root vegetables (carrots, beets, etc.), once you know the variables you’re dealing with.

Too Much Starch

What we love is often also often what we hate. We are generally looking for that point when enough (of what we want) is too much.

With potatoes, the problem is all that starch. It can make potatoes gummy and unpalatable, ruining the potato’s ability to crisp up either in the oven or the frying pan.

The solution is to remove some of that starch and this is best done by soaking the potatoes in cold salted water, then draining and drying them before cooking. This works for oven roasted potatoes, grated potato dishes, and au gratins.

If you carefully fish the potatoes out of their soaking water and let it sit, the potato starch will settle to the bottom of the bowl and you can carefully decant the water and leave it behind. This is what is dried and sold as a gluten-free thickener.

I’m not generally quite that industrious, but, because of the extra starch, potato-soaking water is a perfect addition to breads, rolls, pancakes/waffles, and sourdough. If you have a relatively immediate use for it, you could save it, park it in the fridge, or add it to your sourdough starter.

This Year’s Latkes

My latkes today included some grated parsnips along with the potatoes. I spun them up on the food processor grating blade and dumped them into a large bowl of well-salted cold water, gave them a stir and left them for an hour or so. I was doing other things.

After a nice soak, I drained them in a colander, pressed the extra water out of them and folded them into a clean kitchen towel to be wrung out as tightly as I could manage.

I let them sit for a few minutes while I minced onion, topped the onion with grated some fresh nutmeg and a generous pinch of kosher salt (of course) and freshly ground black pepper. Then I returned to the grated potato-parsnip mix and wrung it out again.

With the potato-parsnip mixture as dry as I could manage, I dumped it into a large bowl, added the minced onion with its seasonings into the bowl, added a heaping spoonful of flour, tossing the mixture lightly until it was evenly distributed.

Then I broke in eggs, mixing them in one at a time, just until the mixture seemed like it might just hold together.

Preheating two large cast-iron frying pans, I floated 1/8” of a neutral vegetable oil in each and waited for it to shimmer, but not smoke.

The latke mixture is spooned into the waiting oil and should begin bubbling immediately, but not furiously (you want them to cook through and be nicely browned, not blacken and be raw on the inside).

Press the spoonful of latke mix down a bit with the back of the spoon and tidy up the edges if they’re too frayed. Those exposed threads of potato will be the first to brown and overcook, so you can help control how much they do that by tucking them into the latke right away. Let the latkes brown on one side before turning them.

Turning Things Over In Hot Oil

When I have to flip things in an appreciable amount of oil, I always use two spatulas, one under the item I’m turning, and one on top. This allows me to gently turn items without splashing hot oil all over the stove, my clothes or me.

A controlled turn is better than flipping things when there’s oil enough to splash you. A pair of cooking chopsticks is also useful. Choose your implement, but have two. (It’s not cheating if you don’t get burnt and your stove isn’t a greasy mess when you’re done…).

Recipe: Latkes-2017

• 2 medium sized peeled Russet Potatoes with

• 4 small parsnips

Soak in a large bowl of well-salted cold water. Walk away. This will leech out the starch and keep the potatoes from oxydizing and turning grey.

Come back when you can (or have to), drain the grated roots in a colander and press the excess water/moisture/starch out of them. Wrap them up in a clean dish towel and wring the bejesus out of them. Let them sit in the towel for the second wringing.

• 1 medium onion

• Freshly grated nutmeg
• Kosher Salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• (a pinch of cayenne, as you like..I didn’t add any this year)

Return to the grated mixture in the towel and wring it out one last time. Dump the reasonably dry and fluffy potatoes and parnips into a large bowl.

• minced Onions and seasonings, and
• A heaping spoon full of all purpose flour

Mix these together until the flour and the onion mixture are evenly distributed in the grated potatoes and parsnips.

• Eggs, one at a time, mixing them in thoroughly, just until the latke mixture is moist enough to seem like it might hold together. (I used three jumbo eggs, but your egg sizes, the moisture in your mixture, etc. will dictate how many you’ll use).

Heat up the oil and you’re off to the races.

I always put a sheet pan in a 250° F oven to receive the latkes and keep them warm without cooking them too much before I lay the first spoonful in the pan.

With two large cast-iron frying pans (13”), I cooked three medium-sized latkes per pan.

Some people cook one large latke, drain the oil on paper towels and cut pie slices to serve it. This makes turning the puppy a good deal trickier, and I prefer individual latkes because they get crunch around all the edges, and after all, isn’t that what we’re all after?

Traditionally served with applesauce or a horseradish sauce, or in our household, both.

When the temperatures are hovering around 18° outside; there’s a fire in the woodstove, and it gets dark by 4:30 in the afternoon – a week before the shortest day of the year – these were a real delight.

Best wishes and remember, regardless of which holidays you celebrate, you can always celebrate and nourish your family and friends with good food, made with care, and affection.

Never cook when you’re mad. (That’s what restaurant food is for.)







Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.