Take it as evidence that I’m a bad Jew, if you must, but the rumors are true; I had never made latkes before. Picture thin shreds of white potato that have sopped up gallons of oil and yet remain pale and flaccid, to be served with dairy-rich sour cream or overly sweetened apple sauce- Can you blame my resistance? Admittedly, the latkes my parents painstakingly make every year are never like this, but out of laziness and sheer stubbornness, I refused to remove my blinders and give them a chance. Despite the connection I felt to the ritual of their preparation, I found myself unmoved, year after year. Working as a tag team, my mom in the kitchen working with the raw ingredients, my dad out back doing flame-control, the smell of smoke and canola oil permeating the air, it’s this tradition that epitomizes the Hannukah experience to me. That’s why we’re unofficially pushing back the date of celebration, so that my dad can be home to fry them like usual. Whether that means standing outside at the grill in the snow, rain, or just freezing cold, it doesn’t matter. He knows that the hungry hordes need their crispy, golden brown latkes, and there’s no way on earth we’re deep frying that much potato matter inside the house.
And there starts my prejudice; Anything that requires cooking outside of the kitchen must be too much of a hassle. What with all the holiday cookies to bake, why waste time making boring old potato pancakes anyway? Deep fried food doesn’t disagree with me per say, but it loses quite a few brownie points if I’m the one doing the frying. Who wants third degree burns as a holiday parting gift? That’s why, with the actual Hannukah week free and clear, I stuck to what I know best and fired up the oven, set on breaking my latke-less streak at last.
Notice, these are baked latkes, not fat-free; They still need ample lubrication to prevent sticking and tearing. Most notable, however, is not the method by which these nouveau potato pancakes are cooked, but the subtle flavors I chose to wake up these potentially snooze-worthy staples. Taking inspiration from Chinese scallion pancakes, short ribbons of green onion are woven amongst the strands of potato, punctuated by the gentle warmth of ginger. Sure, purists may turn up their noses, but these nontraditional spud bundles have made me a convert. Latkes can be a beautiful (and yes, delicious) thing, when treated with a little extra love and attention. And yes, please, go ahead and fry them if you prefer. Just keep that vat of hot oil far away from me.
Baked Scallion-Ginger Latkes
1 1/2 Pounds White or Gold Potatoes
2 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Generous Bundle Scallions (about a dozen), Cut into 1-Inch Pieces
1 Tablespoon Minched Fresh Parsley
1 1/2 Tablespoons Finely Minced Fresh Ginger
1/4 Cup Garbanzo Flour
1 Tablespoon Flax Seeds, Ground
1/4 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
2 – 4 Tablespoons Canola Oil
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and use 1 or 2 tablespoons of the canola oil to generously grease a baking sheet. Don’t be shy; you need to really smear it on so that nothing stick later.
Peel and grate the potatoes, placing them in a colander in the sink or set over a large bowl. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and salt, to prevent browning and extract some of the water, and let sit for 5 – 10 minutes. Squeeze the potato shreds with your hands to extract the excess water. Don’t be shy, really wring those spuds out, because too much water now will mean less crispy latkes later. Transfer the significantly drier potatoes into a [dry] large bowl.
Cut the scallions into one-inch lengths, and add to the potato. If your scallions are on the chunkier side, slice them in halves or quarters first. Add in the parsley, ginger, flour, ground flax, and pepper, and toss to combine.
Scoop out about 1/4 cup of potato mixture for each latke, and use your hands to really press it all together. Place each latke on the prepared sheet fairly close together since they don’t spread. Flatten each mound down as thin as possible to get crispier results. Brush the tops of the pancakes with 1 – 2 tablespoons of oil, and again, don’t be skimpy about it. Side your sheet of latkes into the oven, and bake for 20 minutes. At that point, flip them all over, and bake for another 15 – 20 minutes, until golden brown. Serve immediately, with vegan sour cream if desired.
You can also make them ahead of time; Prepare as stated up to this point, but let them cool completely. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge until you’re ready to serve, and then just pop them in the toaster oven to warm through.
Makes 8 – 12 Medium-Sized Latkes