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Vegan latkes for the lazy

The author, during the holidays.
Ted Koppel

“It’s easy,” my grandmother said when I asked her how to make homemade potato pancakes.

“Sure it is,” I said to the woman who grew up with no refrigerator and stored her groceries in an icebox during the summer and on the window sill in winter. This was a woman who lived many years without power steering, as well. Maybe she wasn’t able to leap over tall buildings in a single bound, but she was able to knit an afghan with a flick of her wrist. Just because something was easy for her, didn’t mean it was easy for me.

The microwave was easy for me along with a frost free refrigerator. I was able to handle a little stovetop cooking so I bought frozen potato pancakes, or latkes, as we called them in my family, for many years. It was easy to heat them for five minutes on one side and five minutes on the other.

Little did I know, until just last year, that’s pretty much how you make latkes from scratch.

I discovered this amazing news from my coworker Lindsay, who recently told me that all she did was grate potatoes and push the pieces into little balls, put them in the frying pan, flatten them and heat them four minutes on each side in a little bit of oil.

“How do you get the potato pieces to stick together?” I wanted to know.

Lindsay swore that once they were grated, they would just stick.

“Hmmm…” I thought as I browsed complicated looking potato pancake and latke recipes, including vegan ones that listed mysterious items like “egg replacer.”

“Potatoes are pretty vegan,” I thought, “and pretty cheap. Let me just start there.”

So I bought a bag of organic red potatoes at Whole Foods, brought them home, washed them off, dried them and started grating. Truth be told, it did take a little bit more muscle to grate the potatoes than to pull apart frozen potato pancakes, but it also made me a whole lot warmer. With this brutal Baltimore winter, I felt that warm was the way to go.

After I grated a couple of potatoes and followed most of Lindsay’s directions, I actually heated the patties about twelve minutes on each side. I did one batch in unrefined sesame oil and another with the oil left over from the first batch. The first batch had the flavor of fried dough and the second one tasted like French fries, one of my favorite foods of all time.

Either way, I think, is a savory way to go.

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