A Whole Latke Love

Contrary to the frequently perpetuated oversimplification, latkes are not potato pancakes. They’re not hash browns nor patties, neither nuggets, tots, nor home fries. “Shredded potato clusters” don’t quite do them justice, but it’s hard to explain such a disarmingly simple dish. Sometimes it easier to describe what they aren’t, rather than what they are- Or ought to be. Strong opinions exist about what makes a proper latke, but in my family, that only means one thing: thin, crispy, silver dollar disks of starchy ribbons, all bound together with a scant handful of matzo meal and a whisper of yellow onion for seasoning. Deeply browned around the edges with a tender interior, some more so than others to appease a diverse crowd, they’re made by the pound and scaled up by tens; never trimmed back, never turned down. Rarely do leftovers survive the main meal, no matter how many buttery Yukon golds press through those sharp spinning grates.

For as long as I can remember, Hanukah has meant the smell of canola oil wafting through the house come midday, long before the menorah comes out or the table is set. My parents work in concert to sling the edible oily miracles well in advance of arriving guests to hide the laborious demands of each painstakingly shaped round. My mom stands guard inside the kitchen, cutting down armies of potatoes to form the raw fuel for this fire. Conveying them in heaping stock pots to my dad, he then dutifully, patiently shallow fries them outside on the grill. Through the bitterly cold winds, freezing rain, hail, snow, and thunderstorms, he faces the elements with steely resolve. There’s no Hanukkah celebration without the latkes, and they’re not about to cook themselves.

I’ll start by assembling my plate daintily, politely spearing two or three small clusters to save enough for the crowd, but after the first bite, proper manners quickly fall by the wayside. Seconds consist of a half sheet tray of the potato gems, shamelessly slathered with enough sour cream to sink a ship, if not lavished with a truly decadent crown of seaweed caviar. From age 3 to 30, if I don’t end the night with grease stains on my shirt and crispy potato shrapnel tangled in my hair, then it isn’t a real holiday dinner with my family.

Latkes aren’t the point here, despite their dominance on festive menus and historical authenticity- Or lack thereof. Latkes are about symbolism, taking on whatever meaning you assign them on this holy, yet entirely ordinary winter day. Latkes are whatever you want them to be, but the only way I’ll ever want them is back east in the house where I grew up, my parents lovingly slinging them from dawn to dusk. No recipe on Earth could ever recreate that kind of experience.

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Bowl Me Over

Even the auto-correct function on my phone knows me better than to suggest I might be a sports fan. After typing in a casual comment about the upcoming Superbowl, I glanced back to discover that, unbeknownst to me, the conversation had suddenly become about a “superb owl.” Thank goodness we have such advanced artificial intelligence to set me straight here, but now I’m unreasonably curious about what would make any average owl truly “superb.”

Technological tangents aside, it’s true that I have no intention of suddenly becoming a football aficionado. I am, however, quite passionate about a different sort of super bowl, born of a much more satisfying sort of culinary action, and with far less potential for full-contact injuries. In recent days I’ve shared two of these superlative bowl-based meals on Go Dairy Free that would be ideal for the cold days of February ahead.

When you’re craving a bite of comfort, few dishes can rival the universal appeal of mashed potatoes and gravy. This all-in-one Mashed Potato Bowl with Creamy Cashew Gravy is savory and deeply satisfying, layered with a mélange of seasonal vegetables and hearty plant-based protein. Best of all, each component can be prepped separately in advance and thrown together in short order.

Dressed in a stunning shade of lavender and studded with deep purple gems, it’s easy to see at a glance that this is no average potato soup. Thai flavors meld with unsweetened coconut milk in my Purple Potato-Eater Chowder to create a warming, soulful, yet remarkably delicate brew. Plain purple potatoes are responsible for the unmistakable color, although purple sweet potatoes could be swapped in for a richer flavor.

Whether you’re gearing up for game day or on the lookout for exceptional birds of prey this weekend, you’ll want these recipes on hand for some hearty, healthy eats. Hit the links for details!

Oktuberfest

Who had the baffling idea to name the annual German beer and food extravaganza “Oktoberfest” when the majority of the celebration takes place in September? Perhaps it was a subtle method of throwing outsiders off the trail of free-flowing booze, because it certainly does succeed in disorienting me every year. No matter how carefully I plan, I can never seem to hit this moving target with an appropriately timed blog post- Despite the fact that it’s actually standing still. Maybe that clouded vision is just all the alcohol talking.

On this, the last day of the month, I’m here to say that at last, victory is mine! Best of all, the festivities are officially sanctioned to drag on for at least another week, so you have plenty of time to get into the kitchen and whip this one up. You’ll want to revisit the recipe well beyond the scope of drunken revelries though, so make sure you keep it on file well beyond these ambiguous dates.

Dreaming of all the most comforting foods to help soak up a pint or two and inspired by the German theme, potatoes were an obvious base for a suitably hearty accompaniment. Tender potatoes are served warm, tossed with meaty “sausage” crumbles simmered in a bit of the golden elixir itself, contrasted by the crisp bite of tart green apple and the satisfyingly sour foil of fresh sauerkraut. A far cry from your Aunt Betty’s mayonnaise-soaked picnic fare, I hesitate to ascribe it the title of “potato salad,” because this autumnal melange is truly a different beast altogether. Celebrate the humble spud, don’t hide it in that gelatinous white goop! A simple mustard vinaigrette brings everything together, without weighing the dish down.

Teetotalers are welcome to replace the beer with vegetable broth, to no ill effects. Even if you can’t ever place Oktoberfest in the correct month like me, you can still celebrate Oktuberfest any time of year.

Oktuberfest Warm Potato Salad

1 Pound Yukon Gold Potatoes, Diced
1 Pound Baby Red-Skinned Potatoes, Halved
1/2 Large Sweet Onion, Quartered and Thinly Sliced
2 Cups Vegan Sausage Crumbles
1/2 Cup Sauerkraut, Thoroughly Drained
3/4 – 1 1/4 Cup Beer
1 Tart Green Apple, Cored, Quartered, and Sliced
1 Tablespoon Whole Grain Mustard
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
1/4 Cup Olive Oil, to Taste
Salt and Pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil before adding in the potatoes. Simmer gently to prevent them from breaking up, and cook until fork tender; about 10 minutes. Thoroughly drain but do not rinse.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, combine the sliced onion with the “sausage” crumbles, drained sauerkraut, and 3/4 cup of the beer. Simmer until the beer has been almost entirely absorbed, the onions are tender, and sausage crumbles are warmed through. Add more beer as needed if it cooks down too quickly, to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning.

Toss the sliced apple into a large bowl with the cooked potatoes and sausage crumble mixture. Separately, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, and oil before pouring the dressing in as well. Stir thoroughly but gently so as not to mash the potato pieces. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

The potatoes will continue to absorb the dressing as the salad sits, so don’t be afraid to add an extra tablespoon or two of beer into the mix if preparing it in advance.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with a frosty mug of beer on the side for maximum enjoyment.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe

All-Purpose Eats

Patience is not one of my strengths, as any members of my family could attest, and this painfully slow, barely visible advancement of spring is driving me mad. Bolting up and out of bed upon spying little green buds through my bedroom window, I race downstairs to assess the weather… Only to discover yet another clammy, grey morning laying in wait. Feeling thoroughly ambushed by this disappointment, it’s difficult to know how best to displace that negative emotion. Typically taking to the kitchen and channeling frustrations and joys alike into something edible, the lack of seasonal produce has made even that a daunting task at times. So, let’s talk about season-less food, because it’s not all frozen or found in an aluminum can.

One could argue that potatoes are best harvested in the cooler months, but unlike so much other produce, these tubers keep so well and for so long, that they’ve effectively lost their seasonality through modernization. Unless you’re growing your own spuds (and more power to you, in that case) anyone and everyone should have easy access to dozens of varieties, all year round. Having them at the average cook’s disposal for 365 days of the year has led them to morph and mutate into dishes appropriate for any occasion, hot and cold, rich and light- You name it, there’s a potato for that.

And so I land at the recipe, with what some might find a boring, nothing-special baked potato. However, I have yet to meet a single soul who could claim to dislike such a dish, so that sounds pretty darned special to me. The real take-away from this piece though are the tofu croutons. If nothing else, ‘taters or not, you’ve got to give those crispy, savory, and somewhat salty little toppers a go. Plus, if you happen to be lucky enough to enjoy a more cooperative spring, you could just as well pile them on top of fresh, seasonal salads. As for me… I’ll just keep enjoying those potatoes a bit longer.

Loaded Baked Potatoes with Tofu Croutons

Crispy Tofu Croutons:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 14-Ounce Package Extra-Firm Tofu, Drained and Pressed for 30 Minutes

Baked Potatoes:

4 Medium Baking Potatoes, Such as Russet

1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 – 3 Tablespoons Unsweetened Soy Milk
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Sweet Paprika
2 Scallions or a Handful of Fresh Chives, Thinly Sliced
1 Cup Roughly Chopped Steamed Broccoli
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Roasted Peppers
Vegan Cheddar “Cheese” (Optional)
Avocado, Diced (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

In a resealable plastic container, combine the oil, soy sauce, vinegar, salt, and pepper, and stir well.

Cut your tofu into very small cubes, about 1 cm each, keeping them as uniform as possible to ensure even baking. Place them in the container with the marinade, seal the container, and shake gently to coat the cubes in the mixture. Let rest until the oven comes up to temperature.

Transfer the tofu cubes and excess marinade to your prepared baking sheet, and spread them out into one even layer. Bake for 60 – 75 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes or so, until evenly browned.

Meanwhile, prepare your potatoes by washing them and cutting a slit into the top of each, to vent the steam. Place them in the oven alongside your tofu, and check for doneness at about 60 minutes. The skins will be slightly crispy, and they should be fork tender on the inside.

Let the potatoes cool for at least 10 minutes, and then scoop out the insides, leaving a thin layer of potato around the skins so they don’t collapse. Place them in a medium bowl, along with the olive oil, 1 tablespoon of soy milk, the salt, and paprika. Use a potato masher or fork to break up the potato and incorporate the other ingredient. Don’t overdo it, a little bit of chunkiness is perfect! If necessary, add more soymilk until it reaches your desired texture, and then add in the scallions, broccoli, and roasted peppers. Mix well to combine. Spoon the mashed potatoes back into the skins, and top with the tofu croutons. Finish off with a sprinkle of vegan “cheese” and/or diced avocado, if desired.

Serves 4

Printable Recipe

Recipe originally written for Nasoya tofu

A Hannukah Miracle

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.

Yield: Makes 8 – 12 Medium-Sized Latkes

Baked Ginger-Scallion Latkes

Baked Ginger-Scallion Latkes
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.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Additional Time 10 minutes
Total Time 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 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 Minced 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

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

12

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 88 Total Fat: 5g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 5g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 138mg Carbohydrates: 10g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 1g Protein: 2g
All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.