Thursday, April 1, 2010
Streit's Potato Pancake Latkes Mix
I loooooooove latkes. LOVE them! And I am far from alone. As is often the case, what was once a humble peasant food has found its way into mainstream culture. Even my local IHOP has potato pancakes on the menu (that said, I have not reviewed them for a reason).
Latkes are made in two different styles, and I like them both pretty equally. One way of making them resembles hash browns. Potatoes are thinly shredded, along with some onions. Sometimes there is matzoh meal added as a binder, and egg holds the whole thing together. Then they are fried -- either in a shallow pan, or deep fried.
I consider this the safer style. At worst it is merely a hash brown patty, and let's face it -- hash browns are one of those foods that are pretty hard to screw up.
The other style uses mashed potatoes instead of shredded potatoes. Again, there is onion added for flavor, and matzo meal helps to form the mixture into something more of a potato croquette. This version can also be fried, but I have also seen them oven baked. It can resemble the really firm stuffing of a twice-baked potato. At its worst, if the potato is not mashed finely, it can be lumpy.
Honestly, the single best latkes I have ever had came from the hot case at Whole Foods (specifically, their Upper West Side of Manhattan location). It was actually a zucchini and potato latke. It was crispy, and had onions that were very thin and fried so that they had that great caramelized taste. They had a crunchy crust, yet were just soft enough on the inside that there was a nice contrast in texture. And the flavor was well worth parting the sea of boorish, arrogant yuppies and unwashed, badly aging hippies that I had to wade through to get to the case. I don't know if this is an item carried at more than one Whole Foods, or even if they still have them available. It might be something done just as a local item. But should you see them at your local store, get them. And at the very least, prepare for no other hash brown -- let alone potato pancake -- to ever be as good.
I had never tried to make my own latkes before. I have helped other people make them (well, I dropped them into the oil), and that resulted in what were possibly the worst latkes/hash browns on the planet. So yeah, I was a little nervous.
This time my luck was better.
Streit's directions are simple. The box contains two bags, each of which makes about ten latkes. For each bag, you mix one large egg and one cup of cold water in a bowl. You then add the contents of the bag, mix well, and let stand for ten minutes. Then -- regular old pancake style -- you drop tablespoon-sized dollops into hot oil and fry on both sides.
I, of course, chose to fry in lard because that makes everything taste better...
OK, that was wrong, I admit it. That was probably even more wrong than saying that Moses used The Force to part the Red Sea. No, I did not in fact use lard. But I did -- maybe -- break the rules a little, depending upon your point of view. I used vegetable oil (which, according the label, is all soy but is not a certified as kosher product). Yes, I could have used olive oil. I always have olive oil in the kitchen, and olive oil can in fact be kosher (the bottle I have is, at least). And there are olive oils available that are kosher for Passover. I just personally do not like the flavor of things fried in olive oil. Yes, I know that there is a particular shrill-voiced television "personality" who will expound upon the uses of olive oil for absolutely everything. But I don't agree, so I didn't do it.
The reason I say I may have cheated on the kosher for Passover rule is because soy, while not considered chometz, is part of a group of grains and legumes called kitniyot. These are avoided because visually they are so similar to chometz that the two could be confused. But, not all Jews consider kitniyot to be unusable during Passover. Ashkenazi Jews will not consume kitniyot products, whereas Sephardic Jews will. So, depending on which side of the fence you're on, I may have cheated. Or maybe not. Personally, I am just going to say that it was close enough for me. For more information on the topic than you may ever care to know, check out this link for "Ask The Rabbi" at about.com.
So after all that preamble, how did Streit's latkes actually taste?
Well, because these came from a powdered mix, they are the mashed potato style of latkes. Granted, it was like instant mashed potato. But I actually like instant mashed potatoes, so I am not holding that against them. And for once, we actually followed the instructions (mostly), and the one-tablespoon dollops of batter did in fact form nice silver dollar sized latkes.
They crisped up well. The inside was sort of a generically smooth mashed potato. The main flavor note is onion, and it's fairly pronounced. I wish I had thought far enough ahead to get some sour cream or applesauce (both traditional toppings) to try with them.
Honestly, for a boxed mix, it's really good. Have I had better? Yes, but these were quite enjoyable. I did notice that, on the individual latkes that were made from slightly larger blobs of batter than the instructions called for (like I said, we mostly followed the directions) actually came out better than the others. There was enough to sink your teeth into, and the flavor seemed more rounded out. I will definitely make these again, but I know I am going to doctor it up a bit -- maybe add a little garlic, possibly some crispy onion strings, etc. And I will make sure I have the aforementioned toppings available.
90 calories per 3 pancakes (assuming each pancake was made with 1 tbsp of mix).
Contains wheat. Kosher, kosher for Passover, parve, sulfite free.