Kumar Latkes


In The Ethics of Ambiguity, Simone de Beauvoir says, “To want to prohibit a man from error is to forbid him to fulfill his own existence, it is to deprive him of life”. I understand this. Creativity and science both are, at their core, trial and error. Life, love and art are creative acts and you have to be unafraid to make a mess to get at the heart of them, to reveal the vibrancy, the transcendent, the yumminess. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Perhaps I was channeling my Eastern European Polish roots this afternoon, but at about 3:00pm I was overcome with a potato urge.  My thoughts turned to the Latke. I really did fuck up with the Thanksgiving Latkes….Did I dare attempt it?  What the hell, I thought. No one is home but me and the cat. I decided to try a cultural blending, a fusion, a tribute to globalization that seemed so appropriate to the history of the sweet potato. Indian/Polish.

Before I give you the recipe, let me give you a very, very short history of the humble potato. The Sweet potato is only distantly related to the common potato and originated in Central and South America. Sweet potato is actually a very important staple in Mexican and South American cooking. Perhaps we will attempt a Sweet Potato and Lime soup one day. This under-rated tuber is well traveled. It made it’s way over to Asia via Polynesia, to Africa and to Europe. The Quechua name for a type of sweet potato is Kumar. (In case you are wondering where the name came from. The cultural pun was not originally intended, but it’s fun.) Potatoes in general have created civilizations, migrations and famines. They have  been used for dyes, bio-fuels, medicine, ornamental gardens and dinner. Potatoes have shaped human history. As Bob Marley said, “One Love, one heart. Let’s get together and feel all right.” The potato could be the key to world peace.

If, like me, at first you don’t succeed with the potato (or other life challenges) don’t be afraid to stick to it and give it a second chance. It is versatile, flexible and forgiving and you should be too. Get creative, get fearless, get messy, mix it up, this is an adventure. This goes for the rest of your life as well, your science, your art, your relationships and love.

By the way, there isn’t an Indian/Polish restaurant in Oly that I know of.

Kumar Latkes

Garma Masala Sweet Potato Latkes

1 lb sweet potatoes

1/2 onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup semolina flour

1 1/2 large eggs, lightly beaten (don’t ask me what to do with the other half – I gave mine to the cat)

1 teaspoon salt

black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons of Garam Masala

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon Asafoetida

mustard seeds (not powder)

1/2 jalapeno (a whole one if you are feeling spicy)

3-4 slices of ginger

2 cloves of garlic

vegetable oil

plain yogurt

Chutney (your choice, I picked Mango)

Beat your eggs, whether they deserve it or not. Add Flour, Salt, Pepper, Garam Masala, Cinnamon and Asafoetida and mix together. Chop your Jalapeno, Onions, Ginger and Garlic and toss it in. Peel and grate your Potatoes, add it to the rest of your stuff and mix it with your hands. It’s pretty fun that way. Wash first please. Form your latkes into little cakes about the size of the palm of your hand.  In a descent size frying pan heat the oil and toss in a sprinkle of Mustard seeds. Keep your heat on medium-ish. When the Mustard Seeds start to pop, put in your latkes. Let them fry up pretty good on one side before you flip. Press them down every once in a while to make sure the cook all the way through. Serve the with Curd (plain yogurt) and a Chutney. This would also go well with apple sauce and sour cream for a more European take on them. Not just yum – Fuck, Yeah!

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