Thursday, January 1, 2015

Let's Have a Latke & Vodka Party!

Happy New Year, i Szczesliwego Nowego Roku!

Polish Potato Pancakes, known in many circles as Latkes, are versatile, delicious and absolutely fun to eat.  Better yet, they are inexpensive and exceedingly simple to make.  They pair really well with flavor-infused vodka…so what better excuse for a party, especially now that cold weather has set in.  You can serve them in many different ways, such as with savory sauces like mushroom, or sour cream & onion, or with apple sauce on the side.  Another style is with a bit of smoked cheese on top.  The traditional style in the Polish mountain region is with the local delicacy called “Oscypek,- smoked sheep’s cheese sold from street carts all over Zakopane and other mountain towns.  

So let’s make a party!  Make up as many potato pancakes as your guests can devour.  You can do them well ahead of time since they freeze well.  Have some traditional ones with onion, and try some varieties in the potato mix:   zucchini, carrot, red bell pepper – you should have at least three varieties and feel free to go crazy.  As yet another option, you could substitute sweet potato for the basic white Russets that we always start with.  

Then come the sauces – mushroom or sour cream & dill would be the Polish ways.  But if you’re feeling adventurous, try something different such as:  curry-lime yogurt,  creamed spinach,  cilantro-lime sour cream,  and of course apple sauce that has been kicked up a notch with cinnamon or a touch of curry or paprika.

Yields 10 to 12 pancakes
2 pounds Russet potatoes, shredded
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 medium onion, grated
3 tablespoons flour
Canola oil

In a large skillet, heat oil to about 375 degrees.  In a bowl, mix the potatoes, egg, salt, pepper, onion and flour   Drop the potato mixture into the skillet and flatten the mix so each pancake is about 1/2 inch high.  Fry until golden brown -- 5 to 6 minutes on the first side and 3 to 4 minutes on the other side. 
Tip:  An electric frying pan or skillet work well to keep the heat evenly distributed. 

Mushroom Sauce
2 cups mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups light cream
salt and pepper to taste

Sauté mushrooms and onion in hot butter until onions are golden.  Sprinkle flour over the mushroom and onion mixture, stirring.  Continue to cook stirring constantly until the flour is incorporated.  Gradually stir in the cream.  Simmer until sauce is thickened.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sour Cream, Onion & Dill Sauce
2 cups sour cream
2 tablespoons finely grated onion
salt and pepper
chopped fresh dill, to taste

Mix sour cream, onion and dill.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Now come the adult beverages -- a nice red wine will always pair well, but this is the perfect time to try a few flavor infused vodkas.  Vodka has the unique characteristic of taking on some flavoring of anything that is added to the liquid, in just a few hours.   Start with a decent Polish potato vodka…Luksusowa is a brand that we use because it is very smooth and relatively inexpensive.  Stay away from the really cheap stuff because it will have a noticeable “bite.”  And we never buy the high end brands for flavoring because we’re changing the taste anyway, so why spend the money? 

(image courtesy of

Peter’s Dad always made lemon vodka – just put one or two sliced lemons into a mason jar, fill with vodka and wait a day or so.  The longer you wait the better.  Cherry vodka is very nice…again place some pitted cherries and a half cup of sugar into a mason jar and you’ll be enjoying it very soon.  If you’re feeling brave, try putting a couple of tablespoons of prepared horseradish into your vodka, let it sit and strain before drinking.
The biggest rule of all is to keep your vodka ice cold.  We                                                 just leave ours in the freezer all the time.  

Remember all this can be made days and weeks ahead of time – it’s fun, unique and will make a party that everyone will be talking about for weeks after.   But please drink responsibly and don’t let your friends drink and drive.  


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