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Recipe: Sweet Potato and Basil Latkes
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I haven't done a lot of creative writing lately, but I have done a fair bit of creative cooking. This is one of my more successful endeavors: sweet potato and basil latkes.



Apologies in advance; I'm not a precise measurer, so I don't write recipes that way either. I feel that when you follow recipes like, well, a cookbook, you lose the sense of what it is you're really trying to do with the food. So I put in amounts of what feels right, and by experience this tends to come out well.

Okay: first what you need to do is get divorced. No, I'm kidding - you don't actually have to get divorced, but you definitely need to have a source of some fresh basil and some fresh jalapenos. I have an ex-wife with a green thumb, and she generously allows me to raid her garden from time to time, so there you have it. Get several good handfuls of basil leaves and one or two nice ripe peppers. Throw the basil in a food processor and dice it finely. Pull out a lump of the diced basil and put it into a bowl, and dump in at least a cup of sour cream. Mix them together by hand until the diced basil is evenly mixed into the sour cream, then cover it and put it in the fridge overnight.

Clean, slice, de-seed and de-vein the pepper and throw it into the food processor with the rest of the basil. Get it all diced up nicely, remove to a storage container and put in the fridge overnight. I believe it's important to let the jalapeno juices kind of pickle the basil for a little while. If I'm wrong about this, don't tell me; it makes me feel I'm doing something cheffy and important.

Next, go get some nice sweet potatoes - I used three medium sized ones for this batch. You also need onion, either half a big one or one smaller one. Chop up the sweet potato and put it in the food processor and grind it up fine. Then pull out the resulting glop and throw it in the middle of a clean towel, wrap it up tightly and squeeze out the moisture over the sink. WARNING: don't do this with a towel you love, because it will be forever stained orange. Get as much liquid out of the mess as you can, then put the sweet potato in a bowl. Repeat this step for the onion, again getting as much liquid out as you can. Store this stuff in the fridge overnight as well.

Also, go out and get yourself some Lingonberry Preserves. I get these from Ikea; they're traditionally served with the Swedish Meatball meals they have in their freezer aisle. My kids love the stuff, but we always have Lingonberries left over. Get them nice and cold in the fridge.

The next day, cooking goes pretty quickly. Heat up a pan with some oil on it. I like grapeseed but olive works fine. Next, put the basil/jalapeno mixture back into the food processor. Make yourself a standard pesto: add a generous handful of pine nuts, a similar amount of good quality parmesan or pecorino cheese, several spoonfuls of crushed garlic, a pinch of salt and pepper. Get all this chopped up, then start pouring olive oil into the feed tube until you have a gooey mass that is somewhere between solid and liquid.

Dump your pesto into the bowl with the sweet potato and onion. Add four eggs, and with your bare hands get in there and mash everything up until it's nicely blended. In an ideal world you will have a batter with a mix of consistencies; the potato will be fairly fine, but the pesto nuts will still be gritty for good mouthfeel. If you feel your batter is too liquid, you can add a small quantity of flour at this point until it firms up.

(Note that I like my latkes more like a pancake and less like a hash brown. Other people have other family recipes that are different, and I will not claim that any one way is right or wrong, for the same reason that I do not go to the Wailing Wall and ask if people have accepted Jesus Christ into their lives.)

Pour out batter on your hot pan. You may wish to mash the batter down, because you want the sweet potato to cook thoroughly, and if the granules aren't very fine, a thick latke might have raw bits left in the middle. It should be kind of chocolate brown on the side it's done on. Flip it and cook it nicely on both sides, then remove to a hot plate. When you're ready to serve, plate with generous amounts of basil-infused sour cream on one side of the plate and a dollop of Lingonberry Preserves on the other. You may wish to garnish with a sprig of basil because it looks and smells nice.

Traditional latkes in my family are made with regular potatoes and served with (among other things) sour cream and applesauce. This recipe still gets the sour cream and the fruity flavors, but it complements the sweet potato flavor with basil, which I think is a very nice match, and the lingonberry is tart enough to do good things with the overall savory nature of the dish. I'll caution not to oversalt; there's salt in the pesto and I don't think you need a lot to make this good.

I enjoyed making it and eating it!


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