ALice Zaslavsky describes his Parsnip and Potato Latkes as “like an edible plate”, but the lacy, crisp, and deep golden latkes are wonderful even on their own. When topped with crème fraîche, dill, finely sliced pickled beets, or smoked salmon (and eggs, if you’re feeling fancy), they’re more than worthy of a little reverence.
Eating fatty and fried foods is a tradition when it comes to celebrating Chanukah, which begins on November 28, 2021. Zaslavsky explains, “The reason we cook a lot of fatty foods for Chanukah is because we symbolize it [lamp] oil. It was only to last one afternoon and it lasted eight days, which is the eight days of Chanukah. So we eat fried donuts, we eat fried latkes.
“What I like about parsnip latkes in particular – or just latkes in general, because you can use any type of root vegetable for latkes – is that it elevates a food that is considered like dirty, like soil, it’s true, and it gives it a special meaning.It’s amazing what can happen when you fry something!
Zaslavsky’s career as a writer and cookbook host began in 2012: while still working as a high school teacher, she placed in the top seven in the fourth season of MasterChef.
“It started out as a passion that turned into an obsession that turned into a reality TV essay. I thought it would be a great story to tell my class when I got back, but I did better than expected!
In addition to her work in audiovisual media, she has developed Phenomenom (“with an M!”), A free literacy and food education program for schools and teachers.
“Much of the food education in schools is health or nutrition oriented, but the reality is that children don’t need it. What they need is to feel more comfortable, more comfortable with food.
Her approach to food education for children focuses on where ingredients and products were grown, the importance of food in different cultures, and how to maximize an ingredient’s potential in cooking.
“When you understand where something comes from, you can better understand how to make it delicious when you cook with it. And you can also figure out how to become more conscientious as a consumer.
Zaslavsky’s family left Georgia for Australia when she was six or seven. She remembers her early childhood well: her grandfather’s dacha, a weekend cottage, where her family grew vegetables and fruits; make fruit strips and sauces from a plum crop, or, during tomato season, make satsebeli – “our own version of passata” – as a family.
“[Georgia was] known as the fruit bowl of the Soviet Union. While the rest of the USSR was empty, starving, if we could cultivate it in our fertile soils, then we had access to it.
Hanukkah is the first public Jewish event she remembers attending in the country of the former Soviet Union: “People on the streets of Tbilisi crowded around the old synagogue in the evening, watching a pantomime from the history of the Maccabean rebellion. I was on my dad’s shoulders watching the performance on stage, just laughing and admiring the crowd.
“I now realize how big a deal this was – this public act of rebellion against religious freedom that had been denied to our people and others under communism for decades.”
Alice Zaslavsky Parsnip and Potato Latkes
Preperation 25 minutes
to cook 25-30 minutes
Makes 16-18 latkes, depending on size
1 roasting or baking potato (160g), washed and rubbed (no need to peel)
2 medium-large parsnips (360g), washed and rubbed (no need to peel)
1 French shallot (or small brown onion), peeled
½ teaspoon of salt flakes, plus a little more for dusting
¼ cup (35 g) plain gluten-free flour (or unleavened bread flour)
tsp ground white pepper
½ cup (125 mL) sunflower oil and / or peanut oil
sprigs of dill or chervil
Line a bowl with muslin (cheesecloth). Coarsely grate the potato, parsnip and shallot in the bowl. Add the salt and squeeze the lemon juice. Put the used lemon half in a small bowl of water and set aside.
Stir the mixture with your hands, removing any excess moisture. Twist the fabric into a scallop, using a wooden spoon as a tourniquet, and hang it over the bowl to catch the liquid; you can also use a strainer or colander to keep it elevated. Let the liquid sit for at least five minutes to allow the starch to settle.
Beat the eggs in another bowl with a fork. Add the potato mixture, flour and pepper. Remove the starch that has settled at the bottom of the first bowl (it will look like dripping glue) and add it to the bowl as well. Use your hands or a wooden spoon to mix all the ingredients together, almost like you would a meat patty.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, high-sided pan. Check it’s ready by adding a little of the mixture – it should sizzle and color almost immediately.
Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Using a cup (60ml) measuring cup, scoop equal portions of the latke mix and shape into flat patties, dipping your hands into your bowl of reserved lemon water every now and then to prevent mixture to stick to your hands.
Working in batches, fry the latkes for three to four minutes per side, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels, sprinkling with additional salt flakes as soon as they come out of the oil. (If you wish, you can place them on a wire rack over a baking sheet and store in the oven at 100 ° C until all the latkes are ready.)
Serve hot, as a base for all kinds of schmears and toppings – my favorite is the classic crème fraîche (or sour cream) and smoked salmon (or salmon roe), garnished with dill or chervil.
Advice: Cold latkes are absolutely delicious in a lunch box. You can also fry them for extra crispy pieces if needed.
Additional: If you have schmaltz (chicken fat) or duck fat in the refrigerator, add about a tablespoon to the frying oil, for extra flavor.
Recipe text from In Praise of Veg by Alice Zaslavsky, photography by Ben Dearnley. Murdoch Books (RRP $ 59.99)