We have fallen in love with sweet potatoes lately.
Look at them, so humble and lovely, nestled against each other. Sweet potatoes don’t call attention to themselves, the way the blowzy red tomatoes of August demand our noticing them. Zucchini are vivid green, with stripes sometimes. The peppers blare so bright they can can hurt the eyes.
Sometime, in the mid-winter, I wish for all that color. However, when I look at these sweet potatoes, I remember this is the time of quiet, of plants laying dormant, of grey skies and windows that are cold to the touch from the inside.
Sweet potatoes in January are just the right bite.
Sweet potatoes present so many possibilities.
Last month, Danny made a sweet potato cheesecake with a cranberry-pecan crust. No dessert has ever sold so fast at the restaurant where he works now. (I’d say I want a bite right now, but I am so done with sweet things after the cookie extravaganza of December that I will politely decline.)
We love sweet potato puree with pumpkin, curried sweet potato gratin (oh the gratins of winter, with the edges bubbling brown against the casserole dish), and baked sweet potato fries. I could eat those every night these days, with a touch of smoked paprika and ginger. We have a recipe for boulangerie potatoes in our cookbookthat might be even better with sweet potatoes than with Yukon golds. I also want to try Heidi’s sweet potatoes with coconut milk and macadamia nuts, Amy’s sugar-free sweet potato ice cream sandwiches, and this intriguing caramel corn from Jessica that has honey, sweet potato puree, and flax seeds.
(Okay, maybe my sweet tooth is coming back.)
And parsnips. Oh, the parsnip is even more humble than the sweet potato. Does anyone sing the praises of parsnips? I will, in a small quiet voice.
That’s what the parsnip has — a small, quiet voice. It has a faint sweetness amidst the vegetal sturdiness of the root vegetable. Sipping a spoonful of soup and finding a honeyed note of parsnip amidst the louder flavors is like hearing a compliment from your quiet friend, the one who is always there but doesn’t say much. It’s such a kind surprise that you remember it for months.
Combine parsnips and sweet potatoes and you have humble sweetness.
The past few weeks, we have been making latkes.
I know, we’re late. In the first week of December, my Twitter feed was awash in latke recipes for Hannukah. Folks I respect made them every which way, including spicing them with peppers or throwing in brown butter. As much as I wanted to make every recipe, I was drowning in powdered sugar and cinnamon for cookie fest 2010. I had to wait.
Besides, the quiet of January is a perfect time for latkes. Who needs a holiday to celebrate these swirls of shredded potatoes and shallots?
It doesn’t take much time to make latkes. Peel some sweet potatoes and parsnips directly into a bowl of cold water. You can use the food processor or you can use a box grater and work on your biceps at the same time. Sway to some music — I have fallen under the spell of Keane again, along with Ted Leo’s Biomusicology. Let the shreds sit in the water to remove the starchiness both offer. Try to keep the kid from dipping a spoon into the bowl, thinking this is some delicious soup.
She can play with the shreds after you have dried them, however.
This is satisfying too, to take up all the wet bits of sweet potato and parsnip, swoop them into a kitchen towel and squeeze and squeeze and squeeze until no more water drips from the bottom. This only takes a few moments. It’s worth it. You want latkes that crisp in the hot oil.
Next — and this might surprise you — grate in a few scrapings of fresh nutmeg.
Yes, nutmeg. It’s not just for holiday cookies, you know. In fact, a small amount of nutmeg — something like 1/8 teaspoon — in a savory dish lends a depth that you won’t find otherwise. Try a bit the next time you make pasta sauce or macaroni and cheese, then listen to everyone wonder just why your dish is so good.
Did you know that nutmeg was one of the spices for which Columbus was searching when he set sail from Spain? Or that it’s used in many Indian dishes? Of course, you probably think of nutmeg when you imagine desserts with cinnamon and ginger, but nutmeg also pairs well with cheese (especially ricotta), chicken, lamb, mushrooms, rice, and spinach. Plus, of course, all forms of potatoes, including sweet potatoes. (Thank you, Flavor Bible.)
If you’d like to learn more about spices and how to use them in your kitchen, we’d like to recommend Tony Hill’s wonderful book, The Spice Lover’s Guide to Herbs and Spices, as well as Monica Bhide’s helpful iPhone/iPad app, iSpice. Both are well-researched and particularly useful in the kitchen.
(This is our chance to announce that Danny and I have been chosen to be part of the McCormick Real Gourmets program. We’re happy to be joining some of our other favorite bloggers in this program — Jaden from Steamy Kitchen, Jenny from Picky Palate, and Nicole from Pinch My Salt — to learn more about spices and share what we’ve learned here with you. To be completely transparent, we are being paid by McCormick and we were sent a big batch of spices last week to try out in our kitchen. However, we regularly use McCormick spices, especially the Gourmet collection. They are available at our grocery store on the island. More and more, we want our recipes to use what is readily available to most of you. Once we got the confirmation that all the single-ingredient spices in the McCormick Gourmet line were gluten-free, we felt especially comfortable sharing this with you.
This week, I’m flying to Maryland for two days — leaving Lu for the first time! — to visit the McCormick kitchens. I’ll be looking in particular at their practices to avoid cross-contamination to make sure that everyone gluten-free feels comfortable using these spices.)
We like to grate our nutmeg fresh, for the strongest taste. That’s why the microplane gleams in this photo.
With the smell of fresh nutmeg in the air, we heated up grapeseed oil in the cast-iron skillet. Time to make some sweet potato latkes.
We think you will fall in love with these too.
p.s. You may have noticed some changes around here. We’ve been migrating this site from Blogger to WordPress. Did you notice that everything is in Garamond now? Or that you will now be able to print the recipes straight from the site? There are plenty of ways this place will be better for the change.
And thank you to the brilliant Thomas Dawson for doing this for us!
Be patient, however. We’re still in the midst of it. If you look at the recipe index, you’ll see there are better categories! And photos! But I have to go through all 667 posts and put categories on them before that will be complete. Give me some time. If you are looking for a specific recipe, such as biscuits, go to your favorite search engine and plug in “gluten-free girl biscuits.” Soon, you can just search here.
GLUTEN-FREE SWEET POTATO-PARSNIP LATKES
Once you have grated the sweet potatoes and parsnips and squeezed and grated some nutmeg, pull out some yogurt. Guess what! You don’t have to use eggs to make these latkes. And if you can’t eat cow’s milk, try the yogurt you can eat here. (I think a coconut milk yogurt might be particularly good. You only need 3 tablespoons, after all.) You just need a binder, a little protein, to hold together the latkes. Frankly, we found out that yogurt works because we ran out of eggs before making the latkes for photographs yesterday.
It’s a new year. Why not eat something for breakfast that is healthy, easy to make, gluten-free, egg-free, and potentially dairy-free?
If that sounds like a mouthful, all you need to know is this: these latkes are a gracious surprise in the morning.
1 large sweet potato, peeled
1 or 2 large parsnips, peeled
2 large shallots, peeled
1/8 teaspoon fresh-grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme (the McCormick dried thyme works well)
3 heaping tablespoons yogurt (use full-fat and the kind you like)
60 grams (about 1/3 cup) potato starch
kosher salt and fresh-cracked black pepper
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
Squeezing out the water. Grab a kitchen towel, or paper towels, and put it over a colander. Scoop the shredded sweet potatoes and parsnips into the towel with a slotted spoon. After you have moved them all over, grab the kitchen towel, close it up at the top, and squeeze all the water from the vegetables over the kitchen sink. Keep squeezing until the sweet potato and parsnip shreds are dry. Transfer them to a large bowl.
Finishing the latke batter. Grate the shallots into the sweet potato bowl. Add the nutmeg, thyme, and yogurt and mix it all up with your hands. Pour in the potato starch and toss everything together. You want the mixture to cohere without being starchy or clumpy. Season it with salt and pepper.
Making a taster. Set a large cast-iron skillet (or similar heavy-bottomed pan) over medium-high heat. Pour the grapeseed oil into the hot pan. (Move the kids out of the kitchen.) Grab 1 tablespoon of the latke batter and put it in the hot oil, gently. Cook until both sides are browned, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat. Allow the tiny latke to cool, then taste it. Did it fall apart in the pan? Add more starch. Does it need more seasoning? Add that.
Cooking the latkes. When you have the latkes the way you want them, turn the burner onto medium-high heat again. When the oil is hot, add 1/4 cup of the latke batter at a time, pressing down on the top when it is in the pan. Do not crowd the pan. We put in 3 latkes at a time. Allow the bottoms to brown, about 3 minutes, and carefully turn the latkes over, cooking for about 3 minutes. Be careful to avoid oil splatters. Remove the latkes from the pan when they are as browned as you wish.
Continue cooking the rest of the latkes. Sit down to eat.
Makes 8 latkes.