Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Inspector Green's killer latkes

This month's theme on Type M is food recipes as they figure in our books. Thanks, Rick, for this idea! I actually like the idea of having themes which we can follow or not as we wish. If we have something compelling we want to blog about, we can ignore the theme, but if, as often happens after years of writing blogs, we are scratching our heads about what to write this time, a theme offers some readymade inspiration.

Reading through the earlier blogs, I'm intrigued to see how many of our protagonists don't cook much, mostly because they have no time and are focussed on solving the case. Often they are also incompetent, wishing they'd paid more attention to their mothers growing up. Sometimes there is even a mother or the ghost of one nagging in the background.

Recipes and food feature much more prominently in cosy mysteries, where the emphasis is more on community, friendship, and comfort than on nail-biting suspense. Even if the cosy mystery has a reluctant chef, as in Vicki Delany's Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mysteries, there is a popular tea shop or restaurant where the protagonist and friends hang out.

Comfort and community have less place in grittier, darker mysteries and thrillers, for obvious reasons. We don't want the reader settling in for a comfortable cup of tea unless there's a stalker hiding in the next room; we want them holding their breath in excitement and apprehension. And yet, interludes of relaxation have an important place in any story, to vary the pace and give the reader and the characters a chance to reflect. Not to mention catch their breath. A family dinner promotes conversation or at least inner musings about the case and about the state of their lives, which adds depth and richness to the characters.

This is why I don't like the very lean, mean, edgy thrillers that race forward from cliffhanger to cliffhanger with no time to get to know the characters or learn about their complexities and other dimensions. These characters all seem interchangeable. In grittier stories, however, balance is key, and even the food scenes should add to the atmosphere and the momentum of the plot.

My current series character, Amanda Doucette, has little time for cooking, and besides it's no fun cooking for one, but having worked all over the world, she loves the spicy, imaginative food of Thailand, India, Cambodia, South America, and Africa. So far in the series, I have added food scenes related to the setting of the book. FIRE IN THE STARS is set in Newfoundland, for example, so she eats seafood chowder and shrimp. In THE ANCIENT DEAD, the book I am currently writing, set in the Alberta badlands, they are eating a lot of Angus beef steak.

But because of the festive season about to start, I am reaching all the way back to my Inspector Green series for my recipe of the month. Green comes from a rich Eastern European Jewish tradition, so I do mention Shabbat roast chicken dinner, honey cake, and other holiday fare in the books sparingly. This week marks the beginning of Hanukkah, when foods fried in oil are served to commemorate the miracle of the lights. For my own contribution to Type M's recipe collection, here is my father-in-law's recipe for potato latkes:

Inspector Green's Killer Latkes

5-6 medium potatoes, grated (hand is best but food processor if you wish to preserve your knuckles)
1 medium onion, finely grated or minced
3 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
enough cooking oil to deep fry (not olive oil)

By hand, mix together the eggs, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper until they are light and frothy. Add the minced onion. Grate the potatoes, squeeze the excess moisture out with your hands, and add to the egg mixture.

Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a large frying pan and test heat with a small amount of mixture. When it sizzles, add batter in spoonfuls (about 1/3 cup, but they can be bigger or smaller to taste) to fill the pan. Turn when golden and cook the other side. Remove to a platter lined with paper towel and repeat until finished, topping up the oil as needed. Serve piping hot with sour cream or applesauce.

Enjoy, and Happy Hanukah!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this lovely (and easy) recipe. I just replied to Rick's post of the peach kuchen recipe. You both have brought back so many memories of cooking and baking with my maternal grandmother. Her version (German and Czech origin) was simply called potato cakes. And I can appreciate the Jewish heritage from the other side of my family, even though I wasn't raised with those traditions. Happy holidays!

Rick Blechta said...

I'm going to be trying this for sure! Thanks.

Barbara Fradkin said...

It's delicious. However, it's not for the dieting fanatic or the kitchen clean freak.

Rick Blechta said...

Who cares? :)

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