Saturday, December 19, 2009

latkes: our best weapon against anti-semitism?

There are very few foods which inspire more excitement among my friends and family than latkes. I've had several people tell me that their favorite part of the holidays are eating latkes with a big group of friends. Vegetarians, omnivores, jews, gentiles, agnostics, and even quakers all agree that these are some damn tasty treats. They also make your clothes and furniture smell like onion rings for a few weeks, so it's probably good that we only make them once a year.

They seem like such a simple food to prepare: very few ingredients, some hot oil in a pan, and you're there. Unfortunately, "there" can often be a dense, gummy, soggy mess if you take shortcuts and don't know the proper techniques. There are 3 keys to latkes: don't over grate/pulverize the potatoes and onions, squeeze out as much liquid as you can before mixing the shredded potatoes with the eggs and dry ingredients, and keep the oil at a medium to medium high heat throughout the cooking process. Screw up any one of these tenets and you'll be left with less than satisfying potato pancakes. Some people prefer denser, overmixed latkes because that's what they grew up with, but these people just don't know how much better they can be if you treat them like hash browns.

I won't weigh in on the endless debate between applesauce and sour cream devotees: I like to have a little bit of both, so I get the maximum salty/sweet/fatty flavor. There is room at the table for both sides, as long as there are enough latkes.

Classic Potato Latkes
serves 4-6 people

6 large russet potatoes
1 small onion
1/2 cup flour or matzoh meal
3 eggs
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
oil for frying (corn or canola in my house)

1. Peel the potatoes and coarsely grate in a food processor. chop onion separately.
2. Put potato shreds in a large kitchen towel and squeeze out as much liquid as you can (over the sink, of course).
3. Put 3/4s of the potatoes in a large bowl. Put the rest back in the food processor with the chopped onions.
4. Pulse the mixture several times so the onions and potatoes are finely chopped but not pasty.
5. squeeze the liquid out of this mixture as in step 2 and add to bowl with flour, eggs, salt and pepper. mix well.
6. Heat 1/2" oil in 2 large frying pans over medium high heat. I use a 1/4 cup scoop to add latke batter to the pans, then flatten each with a spatula.
7. When the edges of latkes get brown, flip once and flatten again.
8. When the pancakes are well-browned on both sides, transfer to wire racks to drain (over newspaper or brown bags). Do not drain on paper towels: steam will get trapped between the latkes and the paper and make them soggy.

Try to eat some before they disappear. I've tripled this recipe and never had any leftovers. If by some miracle you do end up with uneaten latkes, you can freeze them on wax paper then store in plastic bags in the freezer. Reheat in a 350° oven until they recrisp and heat through, flipping once. It should take about 15 mins or so.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

two words: rutabaga greens

That's right, everyone's favorite underdog root vegetable has the most delicious, mildly bitter, and flavorful greens I've had in a long, long time. Unfortunately, there are almost no recipes for rutabaga greens on the interweb: you can basically use any spinach recipe you like, and I think you'll find it's even better with rutabaga.

I bought some rutabagas and turnips, both with the greens attached, at the farmer's market in fort greene yesterday. I asked the man running the stand if you can eat the greens, and he said "some people do," while making a face like "some people eat all sorts of disgusting things, I'm not judging." They didn't look especially appetizing, I admit, but they were green, and in December that's enough. I planned to make a roasted root vegetable puree with the rutabaga, turnips, sweet potato, and onions, but that's not exactly a meal. So, I decided to top the puree with a classic tomato, chickpea, and greens sauce, and tie the whole thing together with a healthy hit of smoked paprika for both (which is a great substitute for bacon if you're cooking for a vegetarian. Not that anything can replace bacon, but it adds a layer of smokey, peppery deliciousness that's pretty damn good).

An hour later, I had roasted vegetables in the cusinart and a spicy tomato sauce on the stove full of rutabaga greens. They reduce a lot, like most greens, and I recommend removing as much of the stems as you have the patience to do before cooking. The flavor is vaguely herbal and spinach-y, and way better than collards or most kale. Plus, apparently these greens are freakishly good for you (turnip and rutabaga greens have almost the same nutritional value). Enjoy.

Pureed Roasted Root Vegetables
1 bunch turnips
1 bunch rutabagas
1 sweet potato
1 medium onion
olive oil to coat
salt and pepper (more than you think)
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup milk (you may need more)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Chop all vegetables into small, evenly sized cubes. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.
3. Roast vegetables until tender, tossing every 15 minutes or so. They should start to caramelize about 10 minutes before they're done.
4. Put all the ingredients in a cusinart and puree till smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Spicy Chickpea, Rutabaga Green and Tomato Sauce
olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 bunches greens (I used Turnip and Rutabaga), chopped
1-2 dried red peppers, minced
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 can chickpeas
salt and pepper
1-2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1. In a large pan (I used a wok) heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté garlic
2. Add red pepper and greens. sauté until greens have wilted. add salt and pepper
3. Add tomatoes and chickpeas, simmer over medium low heat for around 30 mins. covered. stir occasionally. Serve over puree in wide bowls.