Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Great Expectations + Persimmon Latkes








I grew up in a country where one saw persimmons only in pictures. We did not know if it is a fruit or vegetable. We did not know if it is sweet or sour, whether you cook it or it eat raw. We called it the Japanese Apple, for it embodied the exotic and mysterious Far East lands, the color of the sun rising over the Fuji mountain, the sunsets along the Silk Road, the golden temples, the cranes embroidered into a wedding kimono.

For a long time, I tried to imagine what it was like. I wanted it to be, well I am not sure what exactly I wanted it to be. Because I knew it would taste like nothing I had ever tasted before, for it carried the memories of the camel caravans, was known to scare away the tigers and had the powers of seeing into the future.

I was about 17 when I finally tasted my first persimmon. I spotted it in a Paris market, the golden little Fuyu apple and bought it on the spot. I could not wait to come back to the apartment and I sat on a bench and first held my purchase for a while, for inside it were the sun rising over the Fuji mountain, the sunsets along the Silk Road, the golden temples and the cranes embroidered into a wedding kimono. I held it for a long time and then cut a piece with my Swiss Army keychain knife, took a bite and waited. I waited for the golden explosion of flavors to come, for the temples to shine, for the cranes to sing. I waited for the Japanese wedding bells. But nothing happened. It was not terrible. But it was not the sun rising over the Fuji mountain either. I felt a small pang of hunger for my unrealized expectation, a pinch of sadness and then I stood up, because out there the City of Lights was waiting and there was no time to be wasted on sadness.

It took me over twenty years to give it a second chance. By then I was living in New York City for a long time and I got used to seeing persimmons everywhere. Yet still, every time a saw one the memories of my meal on a Paris bench would unravel, together with the familiar small pang of hunger in the belly and the pinch of sadness under the heart.

And I finally bought another one. This time it was on a bench in Central Park that I cut a piece of it, with the same old Swiss Army keychain knife. Its beauty did not strike me instantly. It took me a while to grasp the floral, perfumy undertones, the hazy mellowness, the hidden sweetness. And then the realization hit me. There was not supposed to be an explosion of flavors. Explosions of flavors are easy to create. This fading autumnal flavor, hazy yet hinting at the possibilities was a reminder of the nature of illusion and the memento to the illusion of great expectations.

It was the most Zen thing of all.








Persimmon Latkes

* 2 small or one large yellow potato (about 10-12 oz)
* 2 firm Fuyu persimmons (about 9oz)
* 2 eggs, lightly beaten
* one small garlic clove, mashed 

* a pinch of cumin (1/4 teaspoon or less) 
* a pinch of nutmeg 
* salt and pepper  (preferably white)
* sunflower oil for frying

1. Peel the potatoes and grate them coarsely, by hand or in food processor. Let the potatoes rest for a couple of minutes and then squeeze excess water by hand. Reserve the water in a small bowl and leave it for about 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, pour off all the liquid from the bowl, but leave the white potato starch that settled on the bottom.

2. Grate the persimmons without peeling them.

3. In a large bowl, mix the potatoes, persimmons, starch, eggs, cumin, nutmeg, garlic, salt and pepper.

4. In a large skillet heat the oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Spoon about 1 1/2 teaspoons of mixture per latke into the skillet, spreading into somewhat flat rounds with a fork. Do not overcrowd the skillet. Reduce heat to medium and fry the latkes until undersides are dark golden, about four minutes. With spatula carefully turn the latkes over -- be gentle as there is no flour in the mixture and they will be prone to breaking easily -- and fry until undersides are dark golden, about four minutes more. Transfer the latkes to paper towels to drain. Serve immediately.



Makes about 20 latkes

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