Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Eat, Drink, Cook: The Potato Pancake Tradition

Over at Hungry Chicken Homestead — where blog writer Bonnie Simon says her citified chickens rule the roost — there's an opportunity to weigh in on the best way to make potato pancakes.

Bonnie is Jewish, and potato latkes are a traditional food for her family at this time of year, even if she and her mom trade friendly barbs over whether the potatoes should be blended or shredded first. (And don't we all know what those fun little food disputes can be like?)

Bonnie's story and recipe reminded me that my mom, who is not Jewish but rather of German Mennonite ancestry, often made potato pancakes for us when we were kids. (Hers were pillowy smooth rather than free-form shredded too. Maybe it's a generational thing.) Those tender pancakes were fragrant, warm and soft, perfect for cold winter mornings or long dark winter evenings on the farm. Comfort food, that's what they were. Bonnie's remembrances are feeding my own, and now I'm thinking about making some myself. Plus, group me with those who think potatoes have been unfairly demonized (Dr. Daphne Miller devotes an entire chapter to the healthy upside of traditional potato-centric diets in her wonderful book, The Jungle Effect: The Healthiest Diets from Around the World — Why They Work and How to Make Them Work for You.) My view: Fast food french fries, bad. Colorado potatoes with skins on, good. Especially during the winter.

For something leaner, lighter and literally greener, though, I couldn't help noticing a recipe from Gourmet (God rest its soul, my all-time favorite magazine before the clueless bean-counters parachuted into the Conde Nast corporate office and decided since Bon Appetit published recipes, too, the best literary food journalism available in print should be canned) for zucchini latkes. If you're like me, you find yourself craving all things green during these dark (but sparkly) days of plant dormancy. Here's a way to have your pancake, and eat something green too.


Add a little color to the Festival of Lights with zucchini pancakes that shine green. Lighter than potato latkes, they’re the Mediterranean cousins who’ve traveled north to visit family in eastern Europe.
  • 3 lb zucchini
  • 1 1/3 cups plain fine dry bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • About 1 cup vegetable oil for frying

    sour cream

    a deep-fat thermometer
  • Grate zucchini using medium shredding disk of a food processor. Transfer to a bowl and toss with 2 tsp salt. Let stand 30 minutes.
  • Squeeze zucchini in batches in a kitchen towel to remove as much liquid as possible. Transfer zucchini to a large bowl and stir in bread crumbs, eggs, marjoram, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper.
  • Preheat oven to 200°F.
  • Heat 1/3 cup oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Scoop 2 Tbsp mixture per latke into skillet (6 to 8 per batch). Flatten with a fork to form 21/2- to 3-inch pancakes. Fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side (adding more oil as necessary). Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and keep warm in oven.