Farmers' Market Share: Autumn Latkes

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ALISSA NELSON
  • Alissa Nelson
Last week, while browsing the wares at Local Harvest Grocery, I encountered the biggest beets I'd ever seen. They were like cow hearts. I considered staging the Harrison Ford sacrifice scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, just for dramatic effect. Then I saw a sweet potato that was the size of a head, which would have served the role of monkey-head soup tureen. How can you pass up produce like that?

According to proprietor Maddie Earnest, these monstrous root vegetables come from Edwards Farm in Illinois. The farm is owned by a sweet couple in their 80s, who have charmed Earnest to no end. And who can blame her? They're fantastic!

If you haven't figured this out already, fall is my favorite season. In St. Louis, this usually just means a respite from the crappy weather of July and August. But the cooler temperatures also bring a return to cooler-weather produce as well as the last of the late-summer nightshade species (like tomatoes and eggplant). So we get greens again as well as the big root-vegetable harvests and slow-growing squashes. I feel like there are far more options for cooking, and it's not so oppressively hot that I just don't want to cook at all.

The other great thing about fall is that food can get a little heavier and substantial. But that doesn't mean that it has to weigh you down. I find that you can make meals of vegetables alone that are just as satisfying as something laden with dairy or meat, and they tend to be more vibrant and show-stopping.

Take everyone's favorite: potato pancakes. You would be hard-pressed to find a Jewish event that doesn't attempt to bring out the latkes -- although the purist in me thinks that they're way more special if you save them for Hanukkah; I might just be unusually good at self-restraint, though -- and they were spotted in abundance at Oktoberfest. With some minor tweaking, you can up the nutritional content and flavor AND visual appeal, thanks to the magic of gigantic beets.

Autumn Latkes

Adapted from the
Veganomicon

ALISSA NELSON
  • Alissa Nelson
This recipe originally specified tiny latkes, about the size of a Kennedy half-dollar. You can actually make them full-size, too, and they get wonderfully squishy inside. If you're not as unrepentant a beet lover as I am, you might prefer the tiny crunchier version. I also suggest toasting leftovers to eat so that they crisp after refrigeration.
2 cups peeled, shredded beets (a food processor is your friend with this recipe, by the way)
1 cup peeled, shredded carrots
1 cup peeled, shredded sweet potatoes (incidentally, you can probably change your proportions without any issues)
1 large shallot, chopped finely (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
Generous amount of ground black pepper
1 tsp fennel seeds, chopped if you want
1/4 cup water
Olive oil for pan frying
1. Combine all of your shredded veggies in a large mixing bowl. Add the shallot, flour, cornstarch, salt, pepper and fennel seeds. Mix so that the flour coats everything. Add water, then mix again until the flour is dissolved.

2. Preheat a heavy pan with about 1/4 inch of oil, until the oil shimmers slightly.

3. For small latkes, form the beet mixture into balls about the size of a quarter. For larger latkes, you can get up to about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Fry them in batches, about 5 minutes to a size. Drain on paper towels and serve quickly. I suggest topping with apple sauce or sour cream (or even plain yogurt).

Alissa Nelson is a graduate student and compulsive buyer of cookbooks. She enjoys scouring seed catalogs and thrift stores alike. Every Wednesday she seeks the bounty of local farmers' markets for Gut Check -- and then cooks it.

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