When I switched to a mostly vegan diet, one of my primary goals was to put plant-based dinners into regular rotation. I felt like I had slipped into a completely meat-dependant way of cooking. Every time I made a grocery list, I would think about the days ahead and whether we would have chicken, beef, pork, or fish. I had a couple dozen recipes that were tried-and-true, and I pretty much cycled through them over and over. What I wanted was to build up a similar repertoire of vegan recipes, so that my go-to, don’t-have-to-think-about-it dinners were healthy, eco-friendly, and animal-free.
Which brings me to latkes. Potato pancakes are the ultimate weeknight meal, and I’ve never understood why we reserve them for only eight nights a year. Ingredient lists don’t come much shorter or cheaper, and while of course they are best sizzling straight from the skillet, it’s also totally acceptable to make them ahead and reheat in a low oven. Plus, they are already vegetarian. It’s just a matter of those pesky eggs, which bind everything together like, well, a pancake. Some recipes for vegan latkes just omit the egg, and perhaps increase the amount of flour or add cornstarch. I thought that would make my latkes to heavy, and I was doubtful they would hold together without something to mimic the gel-like qualities of an egg. I decided using “flax eggs” (one egg = one tablespoon ground flax mixed with three tablespoons of water) was the way to go.
For my first attempt, I got all ambitious and added raw, grated beets to the potato mixture. My dreams of crispy, jewel-toned latkes were quickly dashed, however, when they ended up tasting really soggy and vegetal. (Alex actually didn’t finish his, and I have never, ever seen him leave a latke behind.) For my next go, I used sweet potato instead of beets. Success! These latkes were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, and held together perfectly. And while they aren’t ruby red, they are a pretty shade of orange, which feels perfectly appropriate for October.
A word about technique: I’ve cooked lots of latkes over the years. One thing I’ve learned is not to fuss with them to much. Let them cook undisturbed in the skillet for four to five minutes before flipping. The edges will get very brown and you will worry they are burning. Stop it. They’re fine. If you flip them to early they won’t be crispy, and there’s nothing sadder than a limp, insipid latke.
If you are making the cashew sour cream, note that you will need to soak the cashews for at least 8 hours beforehand.
Two Potato Latkes
Makes approximately 24
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds
6 tablespoons water
1 1/4 pounds russet potatoes (about 2 small)
1 1/4 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 small)1 medium onion
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Applesauce, for serving
Cashew sour cream, for serving (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven t0 200°F. Line a baking sheet with foil.
In a small bowl, stir together the ground flax seeds and water. Set aside until thickened, about 15 minutes.
Peel the potatoes, sweet potatoes, and the onion and shred them in the food processor using the shredding attachment. Transfer to a large bowl. Squeeze the mixture with paper towels a few times to absorb excess liquid. Stir in the flax-water mixture, flour, salt, and baking powder until well combined.
In a large skillet (preferably cast iron) heat a thin layer of oil. Drop 1/4-cupfuls of the potato mixture into the skillet and cook without disturbing until the edges are deep golden brown and the latke releases easily from the bottom of the skillet, about 4 to 6 minutes. Flip the latkes and cook for 4 to 6 minutes more. Transfer to the baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with remaining potato mixture. Serve with the applesauce and cashew sour cream.
Cashew Sour Cream
Makes about 1 cup
1 cup whole raw cashews, soaked in water overnight or for at least 8 hours
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Large pinch kosher salt
Drain the cashews and transfer them to a blender. Add the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and 1/2 cup of water. Blend on high until the mixture is completely smooth and creamy. Leftovers will keep for about a week in the fridge.