Tonight the mother-in-law came home to discover the kitchen table laden with parsnip peelings, apple skins and egg shells. In the run up to Chanukah, I’d been experimenting with the humble latke. In truth, this scrumptious Jewish potato pancake – traditionally made combining grated potato and egg – doesn’t need meddling with. I mean it has been around for, like, a few hundred years. But I’d run out of potatoes.
Customarily devoured over Chanukah (as the oil they are fried in is symbolic of the miracle of the ever-lasting oil that burnt in the Second Temple in ancient Jerusalem), the latke is, in short, a sort of eggy rösti for those of you who are more au fait with Scandanavian cuisine. Imagine a bunch of chips getting together for an orgy in a non-stick pan… THAT is a latke. And anything that can be eaten with soured cream or apple sauce or salt beef gets a thumbs up in my book.
Prior to the introduction of the potato to Europe in the late sixteenth century, latkes were made using whatever vegetables, legumes, flours and cheeses were locally available to the Jewish communities at that time. In some communities, this still rings true. Being a fan of the local and seasonal club, I like the idea of employing the same ethos when making my latkes; as in tonight’s case, whatever was readily available in our larder during the five o’clock rush to get the offspring’s dinner on the table. (Or in Reuben’s case, on the floor. But he’ll get there.)
Along with the gorgeous Burford Brown eggs that I covet so, I had some muddy parsnips and russet apples at my disposal. I wanted to add a spice to the mix to perfume the latkes, so I scattered some fennel seeds into the raw egg seeing that both aniseed fennel and creamy parsnip are members of the same apiaceae (goodness knows how you pronounce that one) or carrot family (for us commoners).
After taking what seemed like 2 hours to work out how to affix the grater attachment to the mother-in-law’s food-processor (I probably would have saved time – although maybe not a finger – using the hand-grater), I whizzed up three parsnips and two apples (both peeled), and stirred these raw sticks into a bowl of two beaten eggs. After adding a couple of teaspoons of fennel seeds, a good twist of black pepper and a sprinkling of sea salt, I wet my hands and turned palmfuls of the mixture into flat patties, which were then browned (on both sides) in a hot pan of groundnut oil.
The latkes were delicious: a nice balance of sweet parsnip, tart apple and aniseed fennel. But I think they can be improved… so hold out for the next latke installment before the festivities begin.
Chanukah – the Jewish festival of light. Find out more here
Chips – french fries for you American folks