One of the amazing things about creating the menu for The Lost Family was reconnecting with my own. I knew I wanted the book’s restaurant, Masha’s, to be a fusion of Jewish and German food—Peter and his first wife Masha’s culinary heritages, respectively—and, since we’re introduced to Masha’s in 1965, the menu items would also be saturated in whiskey, as was de rigeuer then. I consulted dozens of cookbooks—The Betty Crocker New Picture Cookbook, cookbooks by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin—which I started every morning by reading while I had my coffee. I ordered a compilation of all the Gourmet magazines published in 1965 (you can get just about anything on eBay, and this collection arrived, to my happy surprise, beautifully bound). For the German recipes, I hit up my dear friend Christiane, who grew up in Germany—and asked what were her favorite childhood foods? In answer she sent me photos from her mother’s cookbooks, well-loved, as evidenced (as all cooks know) by the generous Rorschachs of oils and spices on each page.
It was while I was making a batch of plum chutney for Masha’s—which also serves in-house pickles and jams—that I had a sudden vision of the same chutney in small quilted Mason jars identical to the ones I was using, with my grandmother Ray’s tiny spiky handwriting on labels on the tops. Plum Chutney, I saw in my mind’s eye, clear as anything. That wasn’t the recipe I was currently using, but the vision persisted. Then I could see Sweet Pickles and Watermelon Pickles and Beach Plum Jam and Pickled Tomatoes—same handwriting. I didn’t remember ever seeing my grandmother use a cookbook, although she was a dedicated gardener and cook (Peter’s mother-in-law Ruth’s secret garden in Larchmont is based on my grandmother’s). I called my aunt Judy, the only surviving member of my dad’s side of the family. “Did Grandma ever make plum chutney?” I asked.
“You bet your life she did,” my aunt said. “Don’t you remember—every summer, as soon her garden was ripe, the kitchen became a cannery?”
I hadn’t remembered. I remembered only eating the delicious results. I had thought my love of preserving food came from my mom’s side of the family, who unlike my dad’s New York Jewish predecessors were all Minnesota farmers.
“You wouldn’t by any chance have the plum chutney recipe, would you?” I asked my aunt.
A few days later all of my grandmother Ray’s recipes arrived, on index cards—her tiny spiky handwriting, the paper splotched with spices and sauce.
Peter Rashkin’s Latkes with Beet Dip and Horseradish Crème Fraîche are based on my grandmother Ray’s latkes, her recipe rediscovered in the treasure trove my aunt sent me. The latkes are my grandmother’s. She would have eaten them with applesauce and sour cream; the beet dip and horseradish crème fraîche are Peter’s invention. But his last name, too, belongs to my grandmother Ray, who before she became a Blum was a Rashkin.
The Lost Family Virtual Supper Club Recipes
These unusual latke appetizers feature a spectacular mix of flavors and textures -- and are a feast for the eyes. They pair nicely with a discussion of Jenna Blum's THE LOST FAMILY.
3 medium red beets, scrubbed and trimmed, leaving one inch of stems attached
1 clove garlic
1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt (I prefer Fage)
¼ cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon tahini (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups peeled and grated Russet potatoes (about 2 medium potatoes)
1 tablespoon grated onion
3 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup oil for frying (I prefer canola or peanut)
1 cup crème fraîche
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 sprigs chopped parsley for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°F. Wrap each beet loosely in foil; place on rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 50–60 minutes until beets can easily be pierced with fork. When beets are cool enough to handle, remove skin with your fingers, cut off stems, and slice into ½ inch rounds.
Place grated potatoes in cheesecloth and wring out as much moisture as possible.
In a medium bowl, stir together potatoes, onion, eggs, flour and salt.
In large heavy-bottomed skillet (I use Le Creuset), heat oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Place tablespoonfuls of potato mixture into hot oil, pressing to form patties. Brown on one side, 1-3 minutes. Flip and brown on the other side. Remove and drain on a plate with paper towels, or place on clean brown paper shopping bags.
While latkes are cooling, make beet dip and horseradish crème fraîche.
Add beets to food processor with garlic, yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, and tahini, if using. Puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Combine all ingredients and whisk until smooth.
When latkes have cooled, assemble on serving tray or large dish. Top with one tablespoon beet dip, then a dollop of crème fraîche. (It helps if you can refrigerate latkes between beet dip and crème fraîche step, though not necessary.) Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve.
Beet dip can be prepared one week in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge. Latkes can be prepared one week in advance and stored wrapped in paper towels in an airtight container or plastic bag in the fridge. Before serving, reheat at 350°F for 10 minutes. Horseradish crème fraiche can be made up to three days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge. You can substitute fat-free yogurt for the crème fraiche though the texture will not be as silky. For an alternate presentation: If your latkes have held together well and are dense, cut into finger-sized rectangles. Serve beet dip in bowl topped with crème fraîche, using latkes as dipping sticks. Leftover beet dip can be enjoyed with crudités or pita bread (for an extra treat, sprinkle pita triangles with olive oil and Za’atar spice mix and toast in a 400°F oven for 5-7 minutes). Horseradish crème fraiche is a great topper for vegetable soups or scrambled eggs.