It’s pretty incredible that what is essentially a shallow-fried vegetable disc takes on so many different forms: pancakes, latkes, fritters, hash browns, cutlets, boxties, patties. And this is just me naming a few off the top of my head. It gets a bit mind boggling especially when within each of those broad categories, there are sub-categories that vary widely (what with the incredible diversity of different cuisines and with the addition/omission of ingredients within regions). For example, on the one hand you have Aloo Tikkis made with mashed potatoes and spices and then on the other you have the Korean variant (Gamjajeon) that’s made using potato starch and grated potatoes. Technically both are potato cakes and shallow-fried in a pan, but look and taste completely different. And this is just one small example.
Latkes are Jewish-style potato pancakes that are the iconic food of Hanukkah. Traditionally, grated potatoes and matzo meal—unleavened bread blitzed up like breadcrumbs—would form the latkes, that would be shallow-fried in schmaltz (chicken fat). Many many adaptations emerged as with most things, and now anything goes (within reason of course, although that is subjective in itself). Using grated veg in place of the potatoes is a common adaptation, and I’ve also taken the liberty to add some crumbled paneer here to make this a meal in itself. The paneer also melts slightly upon cooking and catches and chars in areas on the pan; we want this here as it contributes to the browning of the latkes. Typically, onions are also grated into the mix along with the veg. I changed that up a bit here and quickly sautéed them with some garlic instead. I prefer it this way, but grate an onion into the vegetable mix if you’re inclined to go that route.
The chunky tomato sauce adds to the ‘meal in itself’ feel rather than having a condiment to dip these latkes into. The acidity works nicely here too. These latkes come together really easily, but make sure you don’t skip the salting step. This is crucial because if you don’t drain out all the excess liquid from the vegetables, they won’t hold their shape in the pan when you’re frying them off, and you’ll have a hot mess on your hands. No fun that.
ZUCCHINI, CARROT & PANEER LATKES + CHUNKY TOMATO SAUCE
- 500 grams zucchini
- 200 grams carrots
- 125 grams paneer
- 4 green chillies, finely chopped (or to taste)
- 3 slices of bread (or ½ cup breadcrumbs)
- 2 eggs
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- Oil, to shallow-fry
- Salt, to taste
Chunky tomato sauce:
- 5 tomatoes, roughly chopped
- A few mint or Italian basil leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp oil
- Salt, to taste
- Grate the zucchini and carrots. Use the grater attachment in a food processor if you have one. If not, a box grater will work just fine. Add to a bowl. Add 2 tsps of salt to the grated veg, mix it through with your hand, and set aside for 15 mins.
- Make the sauce whilst you wait: add the tomatoes to a pan with the oil and salt. Cover and cook over a high flame until they start to break down. As soon as this starts to happen, take off the heat and add in the mint/basil leaves. Set aside.
- Add onions and garlic to a pan with a little oil, and sauté until browned. Set aside. (Use the same pan to fry the latkes.)
- Blitz up the bread in a blender to make breadcrumbs. Set aside. Add your paneer to the same blender and blend until crumbly. A few pulses should do it.
- Taking small handfuls of the veg at a time, give them a firm squeeze to get rid of all the excess liquid. You might have to do this a few times to get them as dry as you can. Alternatively, add the salted veg to a tea towel/piece of muslin, fold the ends over, and wring out all the excess liquid.
- Discard the liquid and add the veg to a bowl. Add breadcrumbs, chopped chillies, sautéed onion and garlic, eggs, crumbled paneer, and salt. Mix it together with your hand.
- Add enough oil to coat the bottom of a pan. Form the latke mixture into patties and fry them over a medium heat until the underside is browned. Flip and cook on the other side for a few mins. Press down with a spatula to flatten them slightly as they cook.
- Serve with the tomato sauce ladled over. Best served hot.