Does making Latkes over the Thanksgiving holiday count? We missed the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgivukkah on Thursday this year, finally lighting candles last night after returning home from our travels through the Central Coast and Northern California this past week. For only the second time in my life I ventured to make latkes by myself. The first time was an utter disaster.
I can still remember feeling completely mortified as I pulled out gray and mushy potato mounds from the oven right in front of my new in laws. I had naively ventured to prepare Hannukah dinner for Frank’s family a mere four months after our wedding.
TEN POUNDS OF POTATOES
Frank convinced me to make 10 pounds of latkes, regaling the time he joined a friend in college for such an adventure. It was only when I helplessly looked to him for direction as the kitchen oozed with turning potatoes that Frank clarified that he had never really made latkes himself. His roommate did the cooking. At that point I think I ordered him out of the house.
While the frying went well, I had no idea that covering the cookie sheets of fried latkes in foil to keep them warm in the oven was a really bad idea. After lighting the candles, I toasted all the women in the room who had probably made thousands of latkes in their lifetime and muttered something about rather making a lasagna any day.
Twenty five years later I willingly tried again–this time with a plan. I minimized all risks since I was cooking for just the three of us. That meant I cut the recipe in half instead of multiplying by four. I prepared the rest of the ingredients and kept the whole peeled potatoes soaking in water until the last minute. Each shredded potato was mixed into the batter as I finished the task. No colorful leaching this time.
I tested frying the latkes in both peanut oil and coconut oil. With my new found appreciation for saturated fat, I kept them separate for a taste test at dinnertime. After my creations browned and drained, I slipped them onto a cookie sheet and set aside–uncovered. Years ago my mother-in-law gently let me know her trick to serving hot and crisp latkes–without standing at the frying pan while everyone else is eating. She slips trays of cooked latkes back into a hot oven for a few minutes just before serving. No mushy gray mounds of starch this time.
The results? Last night I gleefully snapped photos of my beautiful golden brown latkes. They crisped up in the oven as we prepared to sit down, just as promised. With great satisfaction I served them with a tart and tangy homemade applesauce.
As for the taste test, there is a reason bakers and chefs mourned the misguided denigration of coconut oil decades ago. Both peanut and coconut oil stand up to the high temperature of frying and the potatoes browned nicely. We couldn’t tell a difference in taste. But texture was a different story. Despite the last minute crisping, the latkes cooked in peanut oil were noticeably softer. Being a saturated fat, the coconut oil allowed the potato pancake to stay crisp, as if I had just walked away from the stove.
As I keenly focused on every sensory aspect of eating the latkes I experienced one obvious but unexpected bonus. I found myself enjoying them more, and perfectly satisfied with the first two on my plate. How often do we gobble up special treats and forget to savor every bite?
SATURATED FATS REDEEMED
Thankfully saturated fats are not considered the nutritional nightmare they once were. Artificially saturated fats– known as partially hydrogenated fats or trans fats–were always more of the problem. Naturally occurring saturated fats may even improve health in their own right, especially as they reduce intake of more problematic ingredients. The two primary dietary factors currently linked to cardiovascular risk include trans fat as well as low glycemic sugars and refined starches.
Enjoying naturally occurring saturated fat from grass fed beef and dairy products, dark chocolate, and tropical oils is a wonderfully guilt-free pleasure. Certainly it is easy to eat to excess, but that is true of any food or ingredient. In the meantime, a meal with adequate protein, plenty of produce, enough fat and modest amounts of starch is proving to be advantageous to many. It will be interesting to see if my frustratingly low HDL-cholesterol levels increase with this new addition to my diet. Redeeming coconut oil means a whole new adventure in the kitchen.