Indian Spiced Latkes with Apple Chutney
About 2 hours
So, it’s the holidays again — or just an occasion for a gathering of family and friends — and latkes are on the menu. Everyone sort of knows how to make them. And they all kind of taste the same. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Well these don’t. Shake things up a bit with these Indian Spiced Latkes. They’ve got a little kick from the fresh chile and the masala chaat (an Indian spice mix that’s tangy, sweet and sour, and salty), a depth from cumin seeds you toast and grind yourself (it’s seriously not hard, and the flavor is far superior to any pre-ground spice), the sweetness from the chutney on top. These may not be your conventional latkes, but the result will please your bubbe or your neighbors or whoever is coming over to eat these with you.
for the apple chutney
Cut the apple into about 1/4-inch dice. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the ginger, mustard seeds, asafoetida (if using) and cinnamon. Cook, stirring constantly, until the spices start to smell roasty and the ginger loses some of the raw look, about 1 minute. Pour in the apples and sugar and stir to combine with the spices. Add the water and cook until the apples soften and most of the water evaporates, stirring frequently and turning the heat lower if the apples stick, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice. Scatter the mint over top before serving with the latkes (if you stir it in now it will fade in color). Makes about 1½ cups.
for the latkes
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
Set a small fine-mesh sieve over a bowl. Halve and peel the onion and grate on the small holes of a box grater into the strainer.
Stir together the cilantro, chile, flour, masala chaat, ground cumin and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
Lightly beat the eggs in a small bowl and set aside.
(If using gloves, this is where to put them on.) Using the largest holes of a box grater, shred the potatoes, peel and all, into a clean towel spread out over a work surface. Pick a towel you don’t like, it will turn brown. The shreds will turn a brownish-rose color, but this will not affect the flavor or the appearance once cooked. Do not rinse. Water is the enemy of crispness; the quality of your final dish depends on how seriously you take this next step. Onward! Once the potatoes are shredded into the towel, gather the edges of the towel together and twist and squeeze out (really squeeze!) the liquid over the sink. Once squeezed, add the potatoes to a large bowl with the seasonings.
Press the grated onion to remove excess liquid (naturally, we’re still on the quest for crispness). Scrape the onion in with the potatoes. Pour the eggs into the potatoes and mix with your hands to distribute all the seasonings.
Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter and swirl to melt. When it’s hot enough (a sliver of potato will sizzle), use a measuring cup to scoop 1/4 cup of the potatoes into the pan. Press with the bottom of the measuring cup to flatten the mound to 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Add two more scoops to the pan and flatten. Cook until the bottom is browning and crisping (you can tell from the edges, try to be patient and avoid flipping from one side to the other, just let it be), adjusting heat if the oil smokes, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until the other side is brown and crisp, 3 to 4 more minutes. Remove to the baking rack, sprinkle with salt, and put in the oven to keep the first batch warm. (If you want to show off, or prove you’re a kick-ass cook, you could have two skillets going at once to speed up the process. Go ahead. Do it.)
Repeat with the remaining potatoes, about 5 batches in all, wiping out the pan with a paper towel between each batch. Keep each batch warm in the oven as they finish. As you progress through each batch, the potatoes will become a little wetter from sitting in the bowl, but there shouldn’t be a lot of liquid; if you have any, just leave it in the bowl. Also, the pan will retain more and more heat as you cook, so keep a close eye and adjust from medium-high to medium as needed to prevent burning. That would be a huge disappointment after all the bloody time you spent preparing this. The exact cooking time will vary, so go by visual cues; you want evenly browned and crisped edges, while retaining some soft bite of potato in the middle.
Serve the latkes with a dollop of the apple chutney on top.
Psst. Hang in there: believe us, we know. Grating potatoes, squeezing them, getting all that liquid out so your potato pancake is lovely and crisp – it’s a royal pain. Not to mention the chance of injury on the box grater. And then you’re cooking in batches … bear with us. Like many good things in life, the effort you put in the prep will be rewarded in the form of savory crispness.
Indian Spice sources: If you live in a town that has a Little India neighborhood, both massala chaat and asafoetida are very easy to find at any spice shop or Indian grocery. If you don’t, you can certainly order them online. In a pinch skip the asafoetida and use a different masala (or Indian spice blend; masaman curry or other blends are readily available at conventional grocery stores). The flavor profile will be different, but you’ll be in the ballpark. Just remember: The real deal is worth the hunt if you’re willing to look for it.