Fritters, like comedy, are hard, a friend who is a great cook warned me, and I've learnt that she's right.
But every culture has 'em (think rosti and hash browns) so they're worth mastering. And this poor people's food is going upmarket, if this worshipful article devoted to David Kinch's 'tater tots' is anything to go by. The Michelin stared Californian chef goes hard core, potato only. His secret? Double frying - in duck fat!
To see whether all the cooks in their different kitchens can make potato latkes acording to Thea Riesel's recipe, which we posted here last week. Also, can we modify the recipe and make a more modern version?
We don’t all know each other, but we are connected through this project. Two of the test cooks are in Melbourne, including a daughter-in-law and grand-daughter-in-law of two Food is Love grandmothers. Two test cooks are in Sydney, and include women cooking gluten free. They'll see if they can adapt the recipes so they work for them too. There will also be other test cooks from time to time!
And I'm Irris Makler, working as a foreign correspondent in Jerusalem and co-ordinating this project from here, cooking with different produce, different water, during upside down seasons … so if we can all get a result, we know anyone following the recipe will be able to!
version one - straight
Even though I've watched Thea Riesel cook her wonderful latkes, recreating them was not simple. In my Jerusalem kitchen, I used pink desiree potatoes, and followed her recipe pretty faithfully, substituting matza meal because I had no breadcrumbs.
I didn't peel the potatoes, or grate them by hand, the food processor did that job, though the job that does use your hands is squeezing the liquid from the potato mix.
It turned out that I didn't use enough pepper and especially salt, so I had to add salt afterwards. When there are so few spices, you can't miss any out! I also made the latkes a bit too thick, and fried them in oil that was a bit too hot. It's the little things with frying, isn't it?
It seems I may have to make them again, to be sure I can get them just right. Still, the friends I took them to gobbled them up.
Margo is orginally from Seattle, and has lived in a few cities before finally ending up in home- sweet-home Sydney, where she cooks gluten free for her family. Margo recently inherited a Thermomix, and uses it for everything. She also made the latkes straight, substituting oatmeal for breadcrumbs, so it would be gluten free, and using her Thermomix of course for the grating.
Margo loved the result, and so did her family. It was her first time - a latkes virgin! - and she says it won't be her last.
And it's had another effect.
"It's inspired me to discuss our Swedish food heritage with my mother. As my grandmother was ill for a long time before she died, we asked what she wanted in her obituary, and she said, "Tell everyone I made good pickles." Well, I'd better get the recipe, don't you think?!"
VERSION TWO - POTATO CAKE
In her kitchen in Sydney, Miyuki Mane, didn't go back to her Japanese origins, as I suspected she might, adding Asian flavourings, or maybe even seaweed. Instead she changed the form, mingling the grated potato/onion mix with layered potatoes into a beautiful baked cake.
Miyukia was also the only one of us to grate by hand! She used rice flour, and added 2 cloves of garlic and some fresh rosemary to the mix. She sprinkled rosemary stalks in the cake tin before the mix went in, which made a beautiful pattern on the top when she turned it out. Miyuki was also economical. She simply removed 300 g of potatoes from Thea's latkes mix, and sliced them over the cake.
She served her cake warm, with Persian fetta cheese.
version three - baked with sweet potatoes
Amanda is a graphic designer from Melbourne with four young children who also cooks gluten free. She added sweet potatoes to the mix, used quinoa flakes instead of breadcrumbs and dropped the onion. She baked her latkes, brushing them with olive oil before putting them in the oven. Baking requires longer than frying so it was about an hour to cook them through.
Amanda said her kids loved the end product more than she did, so maybe if you are removing the onion and also not frying, you have to add additional spices?
Good News. Latkes can be made gluten free. The bad news is that they taste best fried. Potatoes, oil and salt are a winning combination (even if you don't use duck fat!) Just think how good chips can be.
If you get the proportions of your fritters right, and fry in deep oil that's not too hot, it's a winner. There's a reason it's a classic! So it's back to the drawing board on what to add to improve the taste of the (healthier) baked fritters. All suggestions welcome.
Next week we're going to try leek fritters, a favourite on the Sephardi Passover table. The recipe is from Rosa Bagdadli, a Greek grandmother who has been living in Israel since after World War Two.