You can sort of blame this recipe for tasty tofu latkes on Patricia L. She’d taken a couple of my cooking classes in the past and we ran into each other yesterday at the health food store. After we caught up and I told her about the classes for next year, she asked me about making latkes with potato and daikon for Hanukkah, which starts tonight. What did I think? Should she use rice flour?
In the past week both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal ran stories about people switching things up for Hanukkah. Latkes were getting tweaked to create okonomi-latke (by Japanese-Jewish couple) and poutine latkes (a French-Canadian twist). Pat sensed something when she thought of using daikon radish with potato. So yes, I thought it was a great idea and rice flour was a good option for gluten-free eaters. I have her my blessings.
In response to Pat, I also asked, “What do you think of potato and tofu latkes? I’d shred super-firm tofu as a sub for your daikon.” Her eyebrows rose with interest. (Adding tofu would introduce protein to the pancakes. I discovered while writing Asian Tofu that tofu can be grated to manipulate its texture.)
“I have to fry in oil because we may have gluten-free vegetarians tomorrow night,” she said. “You should fry yours in chicken fat or better yet, duck fat. They’d be splendid that way.”
“I have both in the fridge right now.” I said. “What kind of potato?”
“Russets. I always go with russets. They’re dryish and fry up nicely,” Pat said. She went to the bulk area for rice flour. I headed for the produce section for potatoes.
At home, I looked up the latkes recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem cookbook. It was insightful and smart, as their works always are. Their recipe combined with Pat’s advise served as the foundation for this recipe. Notes for you to keep in your back pocket:
Drying the potato is key, as I gathered from the Jerusalem recipe. Since it didn’t say how long that would take, I dried the potato and tofu in a warm oven (it was cooling down from baking banh mi rolls). The way I squeezed out the ingredients with muslin (read why muslin is my favorite fabric in the kitchen) made the ingredients pretty dry. I think I should have gone from there without the oven-drying but the extra step ensured crispier latkes.
I made the latkes in the afternoon and we snacked on them with drinks. I recalled the first time that I had homemade latkes: Junior high, made by my best friend Greg Cohen and his mom for Hanukkah. It was so different from the Asian food at my house. The latkes seemed exotic.
Running into Pat yesterday and reading the stories in the newspaper inspired me to make this Jewish-Asian rendition. Like the New York half-sour deli pickles that Dick Stein taught me, it pays to trade cooking tips with friends.
Are these just for Hanukkah? No, I'd eat these any time of the year, as Yotam and Sami suggested in Jerusalem.
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Potato and Tofu Pancakes
Yields: 20 pancakes, to serve 5 or 6
- 14 ounces (400 g) peeled and grated russet potato (buy 2 medium ones)
- 8 ounces (240 g) grated super-firm tofu
- 3 large egg whites
- 1 1/2 tablespoons packed cornstarch
- 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup finely chopped green onion
- 6 tablespoons (90g) unsalted butter, or rendered chicken or duck fat
- 6 tablespoons (100 ml) canola oil
- Sour cream or yogurt, to serve
- Put the potato in a bowl, add water to cover, swish, then drain. Wring out in clean muslin or a dishtowel. Transfer to a clean dishtowel. Repeat with the tofu and add to the potato. Let sit at room temperature or in a warm oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours to dry out. Aim for a slightly damp (no longer wet) mixture.
- In a large bowl, beat together the egg whites, cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Add the potato, tofu and green onion. Mix well. Set near the stove with a baking sheet with a rack or paper towel placed inside.
- Heat half of the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. The bottom of the skillet should be filmed.
- Scoop up about 2 lightly packed tablespoons of the latke mixture and place in the skillet. Pat and gently flatten into patties about 3/8 inch (1 cm) thick and 2 1/2 inches (6.5 cm) wide). Repeat to form more in the skillet. Don’t over crowd them. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes per side, until richly brown and crisp. Cool on the rack or paper towel.
- Add a little more butter and oil to the skillet and return the skillet to temperature (e.g., lower the heat, if needed) and fry more. Repeat until all the latke mixture is used. Keep the fried ones warm in the oven, if needed. Serve warm with sour cream.