Crispy sweet potato cakes get a kick from spicy harissa, chickpea flour, cumin-mint yogurt sauce, and pomegranate.
It’s a bit absurd that in 6+ years of Bojon, this is the first latke recipe to date. But I have a great excuse: I was scared.
Each year at Chanukah, my brother makes latkes. Our family isn’t huge – there are maybe 10 or 12 of us at dinner – but the latke-making takes forever. He gets two skillets going, grates approximately 10,000 potatoes, then stands before the vat of potato goop frying potato cakes until the whole house smells like hot oil and spuds. He’s done this for as long as I can remember.
The latke honeymoon must have been over years ago, because it is with a great ennui and much beer that my brother makes his latkes, handing off plates to the kids while the rest of us stand by, anxiously awaiting our turn to nom crispy potato cakes glooped with apple sauce and sour cream.
My brother got a reprieve one year when my sister broke with tradition and hosted Chanukah at her home in Marin and my brother bowed out of latke duty. I optimistically volunteered to take over with the help of Jay and a friend from out of town. We did everything wrong – wrong oil, wrong recipe, wrong heat. After several batches of charred/raw potato cakes, my brother swooped in to wipe the pans free of burnt crumbs and replace the singed oil with clean peanut oil and his latke skillz, and Chanukah was saved.
With all of this to-do about latkes, I hesitated to give them a go at home, though this fear was largely unconscious. I’d think, “Mm, latkes! Maybe I’ll make some?” Then I would immediately do something else instead.
I was unaware of my psychological latke block until the other night when I finally braved the potato cakes once and for all. Sweet potatoes seemed less intimidating somehow, and I wagered they’d pair well with my minty spiced yogurt. I stirred up a bowl of latke goop, essentially just shredded potatoes mixed with flour, salt, onion and egg (plus a bit of extra flavorings). I heated up some oil in a couple of skillets, and used a spring-loaded scoop to drop mounds of batter into the hot oil. I figured I’d be frying over a hot stove for ages, moaning and turning to drink for comfort. And so, I was surprised when I made it to the bottom of the batter bowl in a matter of minutes.
It was then that it hit me: latkes are EASY. Especially when you’re only making them for a few people, or better yet, for yourself plus leftovers. I would even go so far as to call this an easy weeknight meal, no more difficult than making regular pancakes or any other vegetable fritter, both of which I’ve been doing for years.
Chickpea flour adds a bit of nutty flavor and protein while keeping these naturally gluten-free. Sweet potatoes, harissa and smoked paprika pair well with thick skyr or greek yogurt threaded with slivered mint, toasted cumin and plenty of garlic. Pomegranate arils add pop and crunch. The result? Sweet potato cakes that are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, a little smoky, a little spicy, all doused in a cooling sauce and prettied up with pomegranate.
Another Chanukah special that’s less scary than they look? Sufganiyot. Sarah and I styled these puppies for NYT and were pleasantly surprised by how fun and easy they are to make. Not exactly an easy weeknight meal, but still…
- 1 pound (450 g) garnet or jewel sweet potatoes (about 2 medium sweet potatoes / 4 cups grated and lightly packed)
- ½ cup (75 g) finely chopped red or yellow onion
- ⅓ cup (40 g) chickpea flour, sifted if clumpy
- 1 tablespoon (8 g) cornstarch
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) harissa
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- ~1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable oil (such as grapeseed or avocado), for frying
- ½ recipe Spiced Garlic Yogurt Sauce with Mint
- ½ cup pomegranate arils
- a handful of small, pretty mint leaves
- Peel the sweet potatoes and grate them on the large holes of a box grater or with the grater attachment to a food processor. You should have about 4 cups. Place the grated sweet potato in a large bowl and add the onion, sifted chickpea flour, cornstarch, eggs, harissa, paprika, salt, and pepper. Stir well until combined (the harissa will want to clump, so make sure it gets evenly distributed throughout the batter).
- Heat a film of oil in a wide skillet set over medium heat until it shimmers. Drop ¼ cup scoops of batter into the hot oil, flattening slightly (a spring-loaded ice cream scoop works well). Fry until deeply golden on the first side, 2-3 minutes, then flip and cook on the second side until golden and cooked through, 2-3 more minutes. The heat should be low enough that the latkes cook through by the time they're golden on the outside. Remove the cakes to a cooling rack lined with paper towels; this will drain the cakes while helping them stay crisp. (If making these for a crowd, you can place the cooling racks on baking sheets and place in a 250ºF oven to keep warm.) Repeat with the remaining batter, adding oil to the pan as needed.
- Place the latkes on plates and top with spoonfuls of yogurt sauce, a sprinkle of pomegranate arils and a few mint leaves. Serve immediately.
- The latkes are best when fresh out of the pan, but they can be reheated in a hot skillet until crispy and heated through. Extras will keep, refrigerated airtight, for up to a day or two.