Monday, November 14, 2005

Latvian Pancakes

The Latvian name for these pancakes translates to “come back tomorrow.” My brothers and I know them as Latvian Pancakes. “In the old days” my grandmother will say in her broken English, “the parties were very large. So large, food would overflow from the tables. Drinking, eating, and dancing were everywhere. If it was cold, and snow covered the ground up to your waist, the guests slept on the floor near the fire, while their horses and carriages stayed in the barn. In the morning we would make Latvian Pancakes [insert Latvian name here].”

They are beyond a treat in my house. They are so good, that even in the six years of my noble vegetarianism, my grandmother would make me “veggie versions” of this savory snack. This is the recipe that even today, must always be secretly doubled. One batch goes onto the table for consumption and the other whisked away quickly, carefully hidden in a scentless container on the other side of the house until everyone is good and stuffed.
My brothers and I still fight to take home frozen pancakes. I still ration mine so carefully that I only finished my last pancake about 2 months ago (they had been stored since December in my freezer, brought back from holiday in California). Traditionally they are eaten with sour cream or applesauce. They are also excellent plain.
My grandmother still makes these best. In her younger days in Latvia, my grandmother was a trained chef and worked at a boarding school (those lucky kids). After a spat and holding her ground with the headmaster, she was fired, but would soon have to flee the country with my grandfather, mother, aunt and uncles in tow. It is impossible to write any of my grandmother’s recipes down. They are all stored neatly in her brain. She moves too quickly in the kitchen for me to measure anything beyond how many eggs are used (which also varies depending on her mood). “Grandma, how much flour?” “This much,” she says as she reaches her hand into the flour and tosses a handful into the mixing bowl. “No, more!” she will declare after stirring the batter and seeing it is not to her liking.
While I do not have my grandmother’s exact recipe for this item, I was still able to make them moist and savory, with enough to stow away, forgetting until a rainy day. I used “Joy of Cooking’s” crepe recipe but found it too sweet. If you eliminate most of the sugar, the flavor is truer to my grandmother’s batter. The filling is essentially leftovers: Meat like brisket, or other good meat is traditional, but I like turkey best. In recent years, I started adding leftover vegetables (zucchini, carrots, mushrooms) that are roasted and soft to the mixture. It makes a fuller meal out of the pancake. The third part of the filling is sour cream. You can also add a little leftover gravy for extra flavor, but it’s not necessary. The most laborious part of this procedure is removing all meat from the bones. (Save the bones and make a soup, recipe to come.) You can break this procedure up if you do not want to spend all the time on the pancakes at once (make crepe batter or pull the meat from the bone the night before, for example). Total cook and prep time is about 2 hours.

The Crepe:
(makes about 15 pancakes, 8-in diameter)
1-½ cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp double-acting baking powder
1 Tbl sugar
4 eggs
1-1/3 cups milk
2/3 cup water
½ tsp vanilla
1) sift dry ingredients together.
2) Create a moat in the dry and add wet ingredients, whisk together getting as many lumps out as possible
3) Refrigerate at least ½ hour
Note: if the batter gets too thick to your liking you can thin it down with water

The Filling:
Leftover meat
Leftover vegetables (zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, garlic, onions are good)
1-2 heaping spoonful(s) sour cream (the sour cream acts as a glue to hold the meat together)
salt/ pepper to taste
1) Remove meat from bones and place in a large bowl.
2) Add any leftover vegetables, sour cream, salt and pepper
3) In batches, pulse ingredients. The result should be very small bits of meat (you do not want it pureed), slightly moist and pliable from the sour cream (add more sour cream if needed).

Pancake Assemblage:
1) In a large skillet on a medium-high heat, melt a small amount of butter. When warm, add just under ¼ cup of batter. Tip the pan quickly, spreading the batter evenly and thinly around the pan. (The thinner the crepe the easier the folding.) Cook one side only about 3 minutes until lightly brown, flip off skillet, onto a plate.
2) Continue the above step, finishing the batter. In this half-cooked form, the crepes will stick if stacked on top of each other. Avoid this by placing parchment paper between each crepe.
3) Once batter is done, add filling to create pancakes.
4) On browned side of crepe, place a heaping spoonful of filling in the center. Fold crepe 4 times, forming a small square. The uncooked side of the crepe will aid in keeping the pancakes stuck together. Repeat until all crepes are filled.
5) Reheat the same skillet on medium-high heat. Fill the skillet with the stuffed pancakes to complete cooking. As the uncooked crepe side cooks, it will “glue” the pancake together. Flip once lightly browned, about 3 min. Cook on the other side about 3 min, until lightly browned.

Enjoy your taste of traditional Latvia with applesauce, sour cream, plain, warm or cold.

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