Hannukah begins this evening, which means it’s time to think latkes. But not all latkes are created equal. The following recipe doesn’t use potatoes. Yet it’s still a latke, and it’s perfect for the Festival of Lights.
“People often ask me what kind of latkes were eaten before potatoes came to the Old World from the New,” Joan Nathan writes in her cookbook, “Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking France” (Alfred A. Knopf, $39.95). “This onion pancake gives us a taste of that past. Buckwheat, called farine aux Sarrazins or blé noir in French, is used for this recipe. Although rendered goose fat was traditionally the oil used in Alsace and elsewhere in Europe, oils made from safflower, walnuts and other nuts and seeds were also used, probably pressed by the farmers who brought them to markets where they were sold. The recipe, although attributed as Alsatian in one cookbook, is clearly from eastern Europe, as the word “gretchenes” means buckwheat in Polish.”
A test of the recipe produced sweet, dense cakes with a full rich flavor from the onions. It was also extremely easy, if you use a food processor to grate the onion. For an experiment, cut back on the onion and add some grated apple to the mix.
Gretchenes Latkes (Buckwheat Onion Latkes)
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
2 cups grated onions (about 2 medium)
Vegetable oil for frying
Sour cream or applesauce, for garnish
Stir the flour, salt and baking powder together in a small bowl. Beat in the eggs, mixing well. Then stir in the onions.
Heat a nonstick frying pan and add a film of oil. Ladle about 2 tablespoons of the flour-onion mixture into the frying pan and heat, frying until golden, then flip and cook the second side. Eat alone or with sour cream or applesauce.
Makes 8-12 latkes, depending on the size you want.
From “Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France” by Joan Nathan