A Latke Went to Indonesia
by Michael Ballon
Did you here the one about the latke which went to Indonesia? That's not a set up for a Borsht belt joke - it's a short hand explanation of a new dish we have been recently serving at The Café.
Like many other people, I have long been an inveterate lover of potato latkes-but they are traditionally eaten mostly during the holiday season and winter, and not the rest of the year. And this leads me to how chefs and evolve and update menu ideas to create new dishes.
The idea of theme and variation is a very old one, particularly familiar to Classical musical composers. Bach wrote 32 Goldberg variations on a single theme, Beethoven wrote the same number of Diabelli Variations, and Brahms wrote a beautiful symphonic work based on a theme of Hayden. Those great musicians knew that they could take a kernel of a good idea, vary it, and create a completely new work.
Of course the obvious variation on a potato latke is to use a similar starchy vegetable like sweet potato or celery root, both of which are indeed delicious, but not really that much of a variation, and it doesn't really change the essential nature of the dish.
But what if a latke went to Indonesia? There it might be made of Mung bean sprouts and scallions, and seasoned with ginger. Now that would be truly different. Indonesia is also the home to a very different variety of soy sauce, which is like molasses, and much thicker and sweeter than most other soy sauces. It is called Kecap Manis, and is available in specialty food stores, and it is one of my favorite exotic ingredients, though not very expensive.
The medium in which a latke is fried is almost as important as the ingredients it is made out of. One of the distinguishing features of Eastern European cuisine is the use of rendered poultry fat, or schmaltz, as a fat for frying. It is less commonly used today, especially in this country, but the aroma of onions and potatoes fried in schmaltz still evokes memories of an earlier time. Of course rendered poultry is not to be found in Indonesian cuisine, but there the use of toasted sesame oil also imparts a characteristic aroma and taste
As a lover of apple sauce on potato latkes, I have always thought that latkes have an affinity for slightly sweet sauces-and this Indonesian soy sauce fits the bill perfectly. The resulting Mung Bean, Ginger, & Scallion pancake is a delicious vegetarian appetizer, even though my grandmother probably wouldn't recognize the genesis of the idea
Ginger, Scallion, & Mung Bean Pancake
4 cups mung bean sprouts
2 Tablespoons minced shallot
2 bunch finely chopped scallions
1 red pepper, minced
2 Tablespoons finely chopped ginger
3 oz flour
Roasted Sesame oil to fry
Chop the mung beans coarsely, place in mixing bowl
Add the remaining ingredients, and mix well
Heat some sesame oil in a skillet until very hot, and fry about 3 Tablespoons of pancake mix.
Use a spoon to flatten out the pancake as thin as possible, and cook for 2 minutes on each side.
Serve with a drizzle of Kecap Manis sweet soy sauce, and garnish with more scallions