Monday, December 6, 2010

Thankful I can still eat latkes

I think I've been looking at my "gluten-free lifestyle," as someone recently called it, in the wrong light. People always give me pitying looks when I say I can't eat bread, that I'm choosing to not eat cheese, and that my allergist just told me to avoid fish. "What can you eat?" they ask. "Fallen fruit?" And I would feel sorry for myself and hate them as they stood in front of me and ate the cookie that I'd been eyeing all morning that I knew I couldn't have. On bad days, it's like torture. On good days, still bad.

What I keep forgetting is that these foods make me feel horrible. They're mean. They do nasty things to my intestines. Why on earth would I want to eat something that makes me suffer?  There is a whole world of food that I still can eat, food that doesn't make me sick or itchy or give me headaches. Eating foods that make me sick is just a bad habit. Unfortunately it's also an addiction, in its own way. Watching Eric quit smoking made me realize how similar it is. He was addicted to cigarettes and will probably always want one on some level, especially when he's stressed. It's the same with bread. I know bread is bad for me, but I crave it. I need it. It makes me feel better. But I know if I eat it I'll get a horrible headache and have to curl up in the fetal position in the dark with the covers pulled over my head because the sound and the light hurt too much. It's not worth it. But that doesn't mean I don't want it.

There are lots of things to eat; they're just not the kind of food that I grew up eating. Comfort food is what you had as a child. To me it's mac & cheese and mashed potatoes with butter and fried chicken. It's kind of funny--I spent years trying to run away from my childhood and yet somehow I still want the food that I ate that made me feel better back then. That doesn't mean I can't eat the comfort food substitutes. I make a mean GF mac & cheese, Eric makes wonderful dairy-free mashed potatoes, and I fry chicken just fine with a sprinkling of oat flour. My inner child needs fatty foods with wheat and lots of cream and sugar and butter. Yum. The adult in me (wherever she's hiding) would like some food that comforts my intestines.

But Eric's inner child still wants his latkes on Hannukah. So I made latkes. Lots and lots and lots of latkes. Eric still thinks that all women should cook like his mother, not just in quality but in quantity, which on previous Hannukahs led us to make enough latkes for a week of leftovers. This time I didn't cook as many, but I also branched out and tried out a few healthier versions.

And since Eric's inner child also wanted matzo ball soup, he got that too. (He tried to tell me that his inner child wanted another dog, but I drew the line. No need to go around spoiling our inner children, at least not too much.)

Potato Latkes
5 lbs. potatoes
3 onions
6 eggs
1 1/2 cup oat flour
2 tsp. baking powder

Have Eric peel and grate the potatoes and onions by hand, since he thinks it tastes better that way. Keeping the grated potatoes mixed with the onions keeps the potatoes white. Otherwise they will turn a brownish-gray. Not attractive. Drain in a colander to remove excess water. Pressing down on the mixture helps.

Transfer the potato-onion mixture to a large bowl. Beat the eggs and add them to the "batter." Stir in the flour and the baking powder. The mixture should look slightly thick.

To fry:
Add about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil (olive oil or canola oil) to a large frying pan. I've tried cast iron and even a wok, but plain old teflon works best for me. Add a small piece of the batter to test. One potato grating works well. While waiting for the oil to heat up, shape the batter into patties. The best way to do this is to scoop a golf-ball sized bit of batter into your hands, mold it and then squeeze the excess water out. Don't squeeze it all out, though, or the latke won't stick together. I usually mold about six at a time because that's what fits in the pan.

When the potato grating begins to sizzle, it's time to add the batter. Use the spatula to scoop up the latke and carefully place it into the hot oil. I tried using my hands to do this, but kept getting splattered with hot oil. Believe me, this method is safer. Turn the heat down to medium-high. It may take a little experimentation for just the right heat level. The latkes are ready to turn over when the sides are a golden brown. Sometimes I peek by scooting the latke up the side of the pan and checking out its underbelly. This saves me from having to flip it over too soon. If the sides are brown but the middle isn't, that probably means the heat is on too high. After the latkes are flipped, continue to brown for another couple of minutes.

When both sides are browned, transfer them with a slotted spatula to a plate lined with paper towels. The paper towels will probably have to be changed a couple of times because of all the oil, so make sure to have plenty of them on hand. I try not to feel too guilty about destroying another rainforest just so my latkes can be less oily, but it doesn't always work.

The latkes can be kept warm on cookie sheets in a 200 degree oven. They are best and crunchiest when fresh.

My recipes for zucchini latkes and sweet potato latkes will follow in upcoming posts. I would like to thank Elana's Pantry for the carrot latke recipe (although I did add ginger and omitted the scallions because I forgot to buy them).

Here is the original recipe that I've stained with latke batter over the years:

Hilarie's Potato Latkes

Serves 4-6     Serves 12-18    Serves 16-18

6 potatoes       18 potatoes      24 potatoes
            (note: use whiterose potatoes)
1 onion              3 onions          4 onions
2 eggs               6 eggs             8 eggs
1/2 c. flour          1 1/2 c. flour  2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt          3 tsp. salt      4 tsp. salt
1 tsp.b.powder  2 tsp. b. pwd. 3 tsp. b.p.
Grate potatoes very fine by scraping the peeled potatoes against the smallest hole opening on a hand grater.Use a grater with a handle and four sides that stands up to make it easier. OR grate potatoes in a food processor, using the steel blade.  Put the potatoes in the processor in small cubes with the onion, doing several batches at a time.  Drain each batch in a food strainer to remove the excess water. A mesh colander
works well.  Transfer the grated potatoes and grated onion to another bowl.  Beat the eggs and salt and add them to the potato/onion batter.  Stir in the flour and the baking powder.
Heat vegetable oil in a fry pan.  Be sure to coat the pan well.  An electric pan works well or a regular pan on the stove.  When the oil sizzles (about 375˚) drop the batter by large spoonfuls into the oil.  Brown on both sides.  Drain on paper towels.  They can be made ahead and kept warm on cookies sheets in a 200˚ oven.  They can be made ahead, frozen, and re-baked.  

1 comment:

  1. I can identify with that--potatoes are one of my comfort foods, but also my number one trigger food. The variety of the non-potato latkes was great and I got to eat many more that way. The matzo ball soup was awesome. I think it tastes _better_ with almond meal.