Latkes: Light and Lucious

Latkes are potato pancakes with a dismal reputation, considering America’s taste for fried food.  Frowned on for being heavy and greasy, the traditional Chanukah treat is often skipped. Worse, when I lived in Washington, D.C., I saw toaster

A plate of crisp latkes. Never keep them warm in the oven on paper towels. Crisp will be replaced by mush.

latkes! The horror, the horror! Here in Phoenix latke is a foreign word, and you know what that means–headless torsos in the desert, probably caused by latke eating. The state’s biggest paper had not a single word on Chanukah food in today’s food section of the Arizona Republic–nope, the section was filled with what I call the Trifecta of Trayf–scallops wrapped in prosciutto, and a pork/cabbbage dish.

If you have never made your own latkes, the recipe I use is easy and delicious. Light, crisp and flavorful, you can use it instead of hash browns at breakfast. I made them for supper, and made the applesauce, too. Both recipes are below.

Chanuka Latkes (Potato pancakes) Serves 4. Time: 1 hour. Active time: 20 minutes.
Put away your measuring spoons. I cook without measuring, and for this recipe, so can you.

  • One large baking potato (russets are fine)
  • One large yam–the orange kind
  • One medium yellow onion
  • One organic apple–Gala, Fuji but not Granny Smith or Red Delicious.
  • Two fresh eggs
  • Good quality olive oil
  • One head curly parsley
  • Salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg.

Scrub all vegetables. Peel the onion and apple, core the apple. In a big mixing bowl, grate the potato, skin and all , using a box grater. The biggest holes are the ones that work best. Follow by grating half the onion, all of the apple, and the yam. That order will keep you from weeping as much as if the onion were on top.

Wash the parsley, discard the stems, or save for soup. Cut up half a bunch of parsley into tiny flecks of green. Add to bowl. Add a generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Grate about a teaspoon of fresh nutmeg into the mix.

Crack two large eggs into the bowl and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula to mix.

Using a large skillet, cover the bottom with good olive oil and heat till a drop of water spatters. Using a serving spoon, drop a generous spoonful of mix into the pan and immediately pat it thin. You are cooking the potato, so a thick latke won’t cook all the way through. You should be able to fit four into the pan.

Modulate the heat between medium high and medium, but never allow the pancakes to stop sizzling. In about 2 minutes, try to flip a latke. A cooked latke will release easily. It should be crisp and brown. Turn only once, or you get an oil sponge. When all four are done, serve, put in another four and eat yours at the table. The idea that you can make all of them and put them in an oven between layers of paper towel is a myth. They will go from light and crisp to soft and greasy. It’s worth the work of going back and forth to the stove top.

Serve with unflavored Greek yogurt or sour cream and applesauce, below.

Apple Sauce (Serves 4 as a side dish)

  • Choose 6 organic apples of almost any sort except Granny Smith and Red Delicious.
  • Optional: Orange juice, vanilla, sugar, honey, cinnamon or nutmeg.

Wash, peel and core the apples. If you hate peeling apples, you can strain the applesauce through a colander at the end. I like cooking them with peels as it makes the sauce pink and gives more flavor.

Cut up the 6 apples into chunks (cut each quarter into 2), put a half cup of water in a saucepan, and add the apples. You can add orange juice instead of water and add a bit of vanilla. I’m a purist, so it’s apples in water. Cover the pan and boil. When the apples reach a boil, stir occasionally. Do not let the pan dry out. When the apples start to disintegrate, help them along with a potato masher. If the result is watery, take off the lid and boil off some of the liquid. Once you have applesauce consistency, strain to remove peels. Return to pan and sweeten to taste with honey, brown or white sugar.

Light candles and enjoy!

 

Dessert: Not Ice Cream

Even I get tired of ice cream for dessert every night. This afternoon, while grocery shopping, I came across Burro bananas. There are many kinds of bananas, the one we eat most often in the US is the Cavendish.

Burro bananas are about 3 inches long, have squared-off sides and are tangy, even when ripe. I passed up the blue-skinned Ice Cream banana, and the Macabu, which were black–exactly what they should be when ripe. Only then does the Macabu develop a sweet taste and creamy texture. I almost bought the red-skinned bananas because I love the sticky orange insides. I chose the burro bananas.red_bananas

Back home, I put a small pat of butter in a skillet (choose one with a lid), and dropped a flour tortilla on the hot butter. I sliced the banana on top of the tortilla, added a sliced nectarine, and sprinkled raisins and 2 teaspoons of sugar over the now-bubbling tortilla. I added a bit of coriander and cinnamon.  I then dropped another tortilla on top and using a plate, turned out the pan, which turned the tortilla upside down. I slid the dessert back into the pan, with the uncooked tortilla on the bottom.

Using the lid to keep in the heat, I let the banana melt into the nectarine and the sugar and spices blend. When the top tortilla was solid and crisp, I slid the dessert onto a plate, cut it in half and enjoyed every bite. The other half? Breakfast isn’t that far off, and topped with a little yogurt, it should be spectacular.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who likes to eat. While she’ll never be a size 6 again, she loves grocery shopping, preparing a meal out of whatever happens to be in the fridge, and inventing desserts based on what’s fresh in the produce aisle. See her workshops at QuinnCreative.com

Nopales: I’m Gonna Eat CACTUS?

The prickly pear cactus is nothing to laugh at. It has both long and small spines, and the small ones hurt just as much as the long ones. In some areas around Phoenix, the cactus serves as a natural fence–better than razor wire–to protect road-building equipment.prickly pear cactus

And then I read that people eat this stuff. “Right,” I muttered, “and they wash it down with nice broken glass. Prickly Pear, when prepared, creates something wonderful called “Nopales” (which means cactus in Spanish), or more often, Nopalitos, a great snack food.

The broad flat leaves of the prickly pear cactus and the stems are edible. So is the fruit, which is often turned into jelly and a gum-drop like candy.

The leaves are cut and the spines pulled out. Then the eyes of spines are removed. After that, the cactus is cut into small, regular pieces. Most people cook them. Ugh. Not me. There is a strong okra-reactions when cooked. When left raw, they taste almost exactly like raw green beans sprinkled with lemon juice. Much better. No slime. You can also grill them, which avoids the problem and adds a nice smoky taste.

nopales in panThe best news is that nopales are sold in Mexican markets, cut up, cleaned and ready to use.

Yesterday, I experimented with some preparation ideas. I found the best way to prepare them raw was to marinate them. Use any of the marinates below, soak them for about an hour, drain the marinade (don’t rinse) and serve with toothpicks for stabbing and eating.

Marinades for Nopales

  • The easiest (though not the best) is bottled Italian dressing. Cover, soak for an hour or 2, drain, serve.
  • Mix dark sesame oil and rice wine vinegar (twice as much vinegar) to make a tart marinate. Cover, etc.
  • Drain a jar of pickles, use the juice as a marinade. Cover, etc.
  • Pour a jar of sweet pickle relish (hot dog relish) over the nopales. Cover, etc.
  • Mix a cup of raspberry vinegar with a tablespoon of olive oil. Add a dollop of raspberry jam, and a shot of hot pepper sauce or a few grinds of tellicherry pepper.
  • Pour a bottle of salsa (Spicy is good) over the nopales and marinate. Do not drain. Eat with chips.

Don’t miss this great treat. Enjoy!

Imagees: prickly pear cactus: http://www.moplants.com nopales in pan:http://www.ranchogordo.com,

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who likes to cook. She’s married to a personal chef, and together they make great calories together. Quinn is also a writer and artist. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Vegetables for Those Who Hate Vegetables

Maybe it’s just a sudden blah-spot, maybe you’ve always hated vegetables. But now you are brave and want to eat some. Just not the same tired green beans and iceberg lettuce.

Lucky for you, a world of adventure is there for you. Here are some interesting, fun, and great-tasting ways for you to eat vegetables if you are bored with your current menu. And yes, avoid all those things you are allergic to.

1. Edamame. (Ed-ah-MOM-ay). Simply put, soybeans. You can buy them shelled, but edamameas a snack, they are more fun in the pea-like pod. Buy them frozen, simmer them for about 5 minutes, salt them with Kosher salt and pop the round little soybeans out of their shell into your mouth. The husk is tough, don’t eat it. Great mild vegetal taste and a complete protein on their own.

2. Jicama. (HICK-ah-ma). Looks like a dead turnip, tastes like a cross between a crisp apple and a raw potato. Peel the fibrous outer skin and eat the pale insidesjicama raw or cooked. I prefer to eat it raw, because of the crunchy texture and fresh taste. Cut it in matchsticks and dip it in onion dip. Slice it thin and put it on a ham sandwich. Cut it in chunks and mix it in with a chicken salad. You can cook it like a squash, or put it into soups, but I find it much more interesting before cooking.

3. Snap-Pea Crisps. OK, this is sort of like saying a potato chip is a vegetable, but these are worth finding. Crunchy, salty and crisp-baked snap peas. That’s it. Not a diet food, but not nearly as bad as potato chips. I’ve found them in Trader Joe’s  and local food stores. snap peasThey are great right out of the bag, but you can mix them in salads and use them as a dipping object. They really don’t need a dip, they are great right out of the bag.

4. Field greens. Buy them in the easy-to-use bag. Yes, you can buy them all separately, wash them, pat them dry between paper towels and make Maria Rombauer Becker happy.  She was the author of The Joy of Cooking, a book so complete in cooking instructions it tells you how to skin and gut a rabbit. But if you are a bit shy of salads and veggies, buy them read to eat in a plastic bag. They are delicious mixed with, well, jicama, edamame and baked snap peas. You can also pile them on a sandwich or wrap instead of lettuce.

5. Eat it at a different temperature. Tonight, I decided to try something completely different. I had made mushroom ravioli, boiled and drained them, then created a sauce of brie, yogurt and chicken stock. It was an incredible cream sauce without the cream. I then cut up some leftover chicken sausage into the sauce, added the cooked ravioli to heat them, and then poured this mixture over a pile of field greens. It was absolutely wonderful. The field greens were fresh and cold; the sauce rich and hot. The cheesy, creamy sauce paired itself wonderful with the slightly bitter greens into another dimension of flavor. And I felt virtuous because I ate all my salad.

–Images. Edamame: http://www.worldcommunitycookbook.org;
jicama: http://www.sallys-place.com/food/columns/ferray_fiszer/jicama.htm