I rarely follow recipes. It’s just not the way I learned to cook. My mother didn’t follow recipes, and neither did hers. Yes, as Jews, we consider ourselves People of the Book, but that doesn’t apply to the kitchen. The kitchen is where you stand at your mother’s side as she says, “A little more salt,” or “That looks too thick,” or “Oy, you’re burning it!”
So I have this haphazard Old World approach to cooking that requires memory, judgment, and improvisation. I’m also a novelist, which means I can’t stop myself from editing, revising, and taking creative chances. The result is that it’s difficult for me to share recipes. Still, I took a walk through my mental latke process and have recorded it here for anyone who wishes to give it a try. It does have one ingredient my grandmother never would have considered: Aunt Jemima Original pancake mix. But it was one of those weird creative risks that made all the difference. Add a shtikl of love, and you’ll do fine.
3-4 baking potatoes (medium to large)
1 medium onion
2 beaten eggs
1 cup of Aunt Jemima Original pancake mix
Vegetable oil for frying
Fill a large bowl with cold water. Peel potatoes, dropping them into the water as you finish so they don’t turn brown.
Peel the onion and grate it into another large bowl. (Tip: To avoid tearing eyes, use a chilled onion. Also, it helps to keep a sliced lemon on the counter—frequent sniffs will keep your eyes from burning. I don’t know the science behind this, but it works.)
Hand grate all the potatoes into the bowl with the grated onion.
Blot the bowlful with a paper towel to get out a bit of the water.
Add eggs and ¾ cup of pancake mix, setting the rest of it aside. Add about a teaspoon of salt and half teaspoon of pepper. Mix well.
Pour oil into a large skillet until there is at least 1/4 inch of oil. (I use a mixture of canola and olive oil, but you can use what you have.) Heat over medium high until hot.
Set aside a plate with paper towel on it. Place about a tablespoon of the mixture into the oil. Press down lightly with spoon to make it flattish. (It will plump a bit.)
Using a fork, turn latke when golden brown. When brown on both sides, remove from oil and place on paper towel. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
As you make more batches, you’ll notice the batter getting thinner. Add more pancake mix to thicken.
When done, serve hot with applesauce and sour cream for dipping.