This is the fourth year in a row that I’ve brought my latke-making show on the road to my children’s school, staking out a corner in their classroom to fry up a seasonal storm of potato pancakes. My trusted sidekick is en electric skillet that’s over a half century old–it once belonged to a great aunt– which I break out precisely once per year. The electric skillet is my absolute favorite way to make latkes, as it keeps the oil temperature constant for evenly-cooked pancakes, and allows me to set up my frying station in any corner of the kitchen (or classroom) where there’s an outlet.
While I’ve toyed with a variety of latke recipes over the years, my forray into classroom cooking required me to depart from the typical cannon: potatoes, onions, egg and flour or starch. That’s because my children’s former preschool was vegan, so I needed to find some sort of way to bind my batter without egg. I did experiment with some online eggless recipes that called for potato starch as the only binder, but I found that as the batter sat around in the mixing bowl waiting to be fried, potato liquid began pooling at the bottom, making the batter watery and necessitating ongoing attention with more and more starch to sop it up. Too much maintenance.
I don’t know how the idea struck me back then, but I decided to see whether a bit of cooked oatmeal (from quick-cooking, gluten-free oats) might stand in as a batter binder instead. It worked like an absolute charm, and I’ve been making my latkes with oatmeal ever since. Using cooked oatmeal as a secret latke ingredient has other benefits besides binding, too. It keeps the recipe vegan and gluten free, which allows even diet restricted friends to partake of the deliciousness. The oatmeal coats the grated potatoes in a manner that seems to prevent them from browning, and it soaks up any liquid the potatoes may weep, as well; this means you can make the batter at home and transport it to a second location for cooking a little while later without a loss of quality or cohesiveness even as it sits.
The following is my base recipe and technique. You can double it to feed larger crowds.
Gluten Free, Vegan Latkes
Serves 6-8 as a side
- 1-2 absorbent dishtowels, preferably darker colors
- Electric skillet
- Box grater
- Roll of paper towels
- Thin, slotted spatula
- 4 medium to large Russet potatoes, peeled (keep in bowl of cold water before grating to prevent browning)
- 1 large onion, peeled and grated (this can be done the night before to save time)
- 1/4 cup dry, quick cooking, gluten free oats
- 2 tsp salt
- Oil for frying (canola, grapeseed, avocado all work well for high heat)
- Optional to serve: Applesauce, Sour Cream or Creme Fraiche (I like Green Valley Organics Lactose Free Sour Cream).
- Prepare oatmeal according to package directions, using slightly less water than it calls for to ensure a dense, thick oatmeal. Set aside.
- Squeeze grated onion over the sink to remove as much excess water as possible. Place onion in large mixing bowl when done.
- Grate potatoes one at a time. After finishing each potato, squeeze the gratings with both hands over the sink to remove excess water. Next, place the squeezed-out gratings in a horizontal line across the center of a spread out clean dishtowel. Fold the towel over to cover the gratings while you work on the rest of the potatoes. Repeat the grating-squeezing process with each of the remaining potatoes.
- When all 4 potatoes are grated and piled across the center of your dishtowel, roll up the towel lengthwise and twist the edges as tight as you can to squeeze out as much extra water from potatoes as humanly possible. (It will look like a long piece of taffy or a tootsie roll.) The towel should start feeling moist as the liquid soaks through. Keep squeezing and twisting for about a minute.
- Once all 4 potatoes are squeezed as dry as possible, place the shreds into the large mixing bowl, along with the onion. Add 1 tsp salt and the cooked oatmeal. Using your hands, combine the batter very well until fully blended.
- Heat oil in the electric skillet to 375 degrees until it is starting to shimmer.
- As oil heats, line a serving tray or large plate with paper towels.
8. Drop batter into the skillet in ~2 TBSP mounds, flattening them a bit to ensure they cook through. When edges are golden brown and latkes release easily from the pan, they’re ready to flip. Cook the second side until golden brown. Remove from skillet when done and place on paper towel lined plate, layering more paper towels as the plate fills.
Add oil to the skillet as needed to ensure surface is well slicked as you continue to fry additional batches.