By Dina Eliash Robinson
By early October, our craving for potato latkes grew so strong, we decided to pay an early visit to Hanukah by baking up a batch of this traditional comfort food. Yes, you read it right—baking… As in a healthier but still crispy, crunchy, oven-baked version of potato pancakes—in keeping with the FreeRangeClub ban of fried foods.
Driving to Whole Foods, I was debating whether to bake the latkes on parchment-covered baking sheets or in oiled Pyrex pans. As it turned out, I shouldn’t have bothered. The plan was derailed the moment Lew and I entered the store’s foodie Paradise of’ “Local—Organic” produce. For months now, Southern California’s Whole Foods Markets have been expanding these sections reserved for the best of local organic growers, making it evermore difficult to choose among the enormous variety of spectacular plant-foods. The supermarket chain is committed to supporting the organic farming communities of their stores’ surrounding regions.
As accustomed I am to the abundance of mouthwatering organic produce, nothing has prepared me for the picture-perfect jewels still being unloaded, farm-fresh, from their respective crates and boxes. Brilliant colors and ample shapes were asking to be painted, photographed, touched, tasted and I was getting drunk on the fragrances of just-picked basil, strawberry, apple, heirloom tomato, pepper, broccoli, squashes, kale and lemons.
The potatoes came in Yukon Gold, red, Russet brown and dark purple, with equally diverse sizes and shapes. To avoid the agony of choosing, I bought one of each species, convinced that blending them would enrich the flavor of my pancakes. Had I quit then, all would have been well. But who can resist a bit of sightseeing? And there it was, cheek-by-jowl with the spuds, a display of the most beautiful garnet yams I’ve ever seen in my life. Lew nodded his approval when I bagged only one—albeit rather large yam, plump and perfectly shaped. That’s when I lost it, thanks to a pile of red and golden beets, of which I picked just one of each with the last vestiges of my self-restraint.
From then on, I was on a tear… Blame it on my being cursed with the ability to taste the foods I see and sense what combinations of herbs, spices and other flavors work best together, just by imagining them, without being anywhere near a kitchen. And my taste buds were buzzing, directing me to grab two gorgeous parsnips, three carrots, a small turnip and rutabaga—adding more root veggies to spuds for richer latkes. It all made sense until I added a fragrant fennel bulb, which I didn’t even try to justify.
“What are you planning to make out of all this?” my sweet Lew inquired. Although he loves my cooking, even his great trust in my culinary prowess has its limits. I rambled about adding roots to liven up the boring old potato latkes, inviting friends to dinner, freezing leftovers for future meals and when he wasn’t buying any of this, I blamed the Hanukah Spirits for my temporary insanity. “Are you kidding?” my husband laughed, “Letting you loose near fresh organic produce always ends up with you buying enough to feed a regiment.”
Not until I cleaned and shredded my haul did I realize that it would take more than 100 hours to bake all the hand-size latkes contained in that mountain of roots. Having let myself be carried away by food-greed now and then in the past, I had lots of practice harnessing my panic to culinary improvisation. And that’s how the idea of baking a humongous roots-latke-casserole (instead of individual latkes) was born.
As I was assembling and blending the ingredients that would transform the crunchy sweet and tangy shreds into my new creation—lovingly misnamed the Ginormous Baked Latke Loaf—I was ‘in the zone,’ my version of a semi-dazed state tinged with equal parts denial that anything could go wrong and hopeful anticipation. In this case, I hoped for a dish emerging from the oven topped with a rosy crust and as easily sliced as a meatloaf or cake.
The experiment was a huge success, attested to by the oooh’s and aaah’s of our assorted dinner guests and the praise lavished upon the frozen portions shared with our food-savvy FRC blog partners, Catharine “The Kitchen Shrink” and graphic designer Dalia and their families.
Recipe Caveat: Quantities and Proportions—Since there are too many variants in the number and quantity of produce included—for example, in the type, number and size of root vegetables you choose, as well as the intensity of flavoring—the following recipe merely approximates the recommended measurements and ratio of ingredients.
Note: Recommend using all organic ingredients.
Gynormous Baked Latke Loaf
One parsnip—washed and peeled
One medium size carrot—washed and peeled
One small turnip—w & p
One small rutabaga—w & p
Three medium potatoes—washed, skin-on
One medium size garnet yam or sweet potato—washed, skin-on
One small or medium fennel bulb, with or without stalks—washed
Two stalks celery—optional—well washed
One large red onion—peeled
5-6 large cloves of garlic—peeled
Two whole eggs
One and 1/2 cup of egg whites
Five sprigs of fresh parsley—washed, leaves only—or two teaspoons of dry parsley
4-5 leaves of fresh basil—washed, leaves only—or two teaspoons of dry basil
1/2 teaspoon sweet red paprika
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper (adjust to taste)
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 cup buckwheat flour—or whole-wheat flour
1/4 –or more of organic, unsweetened almond milk
Two tablespoons lemon juice
One and 1/2 cup (more if needed) of olive oil—divided
1/4 teaspoon sea-salt—optional
Chop onion into pea-size pieces and sauté in ½ cup of olive oil on low heat until glassy.
Dice garlic and add to onions in the skillet for a minute or so. Remove skillet from burner and let it cool.
Shred in a food processor (or grate by hand) all the root vegetables, as well as the fennel and celery (if used). Place in large bowl.
Dice fresh parsley and basil (if fresh is used) and add to shredded roots.
Add eggs, egg whites, ½ cup olive oil, the buckwheat (or other) flour and all the spices.
Make sure the sautéed onion and garlic with the olive oil in the skillet are cooled and add to the mixture in the bowl.
Blend and mix well—with large spoons or hands. If not moist enough, add a little more olive oil, but don’t make the mixture soggy or too oily.
Turn on the oven to 400 degrees. Suggest you place a tray in the oven to catch any overflow juices from the casserole.
Coat an appropriately sized Pyrex baking dish with a generous amount of olive oil and cover the bottom of the dish with additional oil.’
Scoop the shredded veggie mixture into the baking dish and spread evenly from wall to wall, smoothing the top.
Beat a 1/2 cup of egg whites with the almond milk, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the lemon juice, and drizzle evenly over the entire top of the casserole mixture. This liquid topping creates a rosy crust over the dish.
Place casserole into oven and bake for 30 minutes or until you see the juices bubbling at the bottom of the dish. (That’s why a glass Pyrex is best.) Turn oven temp down to 375 degrees and bake for another hour or until the vegetables are soft and the loaf holds well together for easy cutting.
Dish can be served hot or cold, as well as used in omelets.