Not long after the turn of the 20th century, my Grandfather left Belarus as a young man to come to the United States. He didn’t like what the Bolsheviks were doing in Belarus and saw escape across the Atlantic. Unfortunately for him, it meant an arduous journey, a struggle to survive as a new immigrant and not seeing his Belarus family again until he was in his 70s – more than 50 years later. Fortunately for me, it meant growing up with my kind-hearted grandfather and living under the influence of my Belarusian ancestry, including the glorious дранікі (dra-ni-ki) — the Belarus version of the potato pancake.
I think Belarusians have their genes encoded to make fabulous draniki – as I’ve never known a Belarusian who couldn’t flip one with the elegance of a ballerina. They revere these delicate pancakes considered their national dish and can’t imagine a week without at least one draniki meal. They also know that these are not the coarse and heavily-fried pancakes we find in American restaurants but rather a delicate and fine-textured variety.
I thought I had learned how to make a pretty good draniki from my Grandfather. But one member of my Belarus family didn’t think that was possible. She was determined to test and fine-tune my draniki-making skills (is it possible that being U.S. born and half-Norwegian ancestry that I am missing the all-important draniki-making-gene?).
I happily agreed that we should embark on a draniki-making adventure together. It was clear from the outset that she was right; my draniki skills needed shoring up. The project and the conversation with my cousin from Belarus started a bit like this:
Me: OK. We have potatoes and onions. I’ll get out the food-processor.
Cousin: Let me see your “machine”.
Me: Here you go (I show her my Cuisinart with the coarse-grating blade).
Cousin: Oh no!! You can’t use that. It must be a finely grated.
Me: OK. Here is my fine-grating blade for the Cuisinart.
Cousin: No, no! That is also too coarse. We must not use the “machine”. Show me your hand grater.
Me: Here you go (I show her my fine-grate Microplane).
Cousin: No, it is still too coarse. (She grabs my finest grater from the kitchen drawer — something akin to a lemon zester). This will work!
I was astounded. How can we grate a pile of potatoes with that fine grater?? It will take forever,
I was wrong. She grated those potatoes faster than I could peel them. And the onions and garlic disappeared into the bowl almost as quickly. Amazing. So, now I know the secret. And I have her Belarus-born-and-raised recipe!
Yield: About 8 pancakes
2 pounds potatoes, russet, or about 6 potatoes
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper, black, or to taste
oil, canola, for frying
1. Peel and finely grate potatoes. Draniki are best made by grating by hand with a fine grater. Alternatively a VERY fine food-processor blade may be used.
Place in mixing bowl. As the potato will begin to brown once exposed to oxygen, work quickly to minimize browning.
2. Peel and grate onions and add to bowl; peel and mince garlic and add to bowl.
3. Add salt and pepper to taste. Beat egg and mix in the potato batter.
4. Drain excess water from the batter by letting the batter sit in a colander lined with cheesecloth or paper towels or by draining in a fine sieve. Drain only for a few minutes. Removing too much water will make your batter too thick.
5. Heat oil in heavy frying pan. When hot, drop spoonfuls of batter into pan.
6. Cook until edges are just beginning to turn golden and turn pancakes. Cook on the second side until golden brown.
Draniki are best served in the traditional Belarus manner — with sour cream.
They may also be stuffed with meat (pork) or mushroom or served with a bit of Kielbasa on the side. While my cousin tells me that it is not traditional in Belarus, my Grandfather liked his draniki with a bit of horseradish added to the sour cream — a nice little taste surprise.
Спасибо моим двоюродным братом полезно!
The pancakes look wonderful! I’m going to have to try them one day after I search out my smallest grating blade. Thanks.
I hope you like them. The process is a bit messy, but I think it is worth it.
Looks very delicious especially with the sour cream. I ate something similar for the first time when my husband and I went to the Christmas market in Dusseldorf. They serve it there with apple mousse. We loved it so much that I made this here at home one evening for dinner. 😉
Variations on these potato pancakes are found throughout Russia and Eastern Europe — although I don’t think quite as popular as in Belarus.
The apple mousse sounds great to me. However, my cousin is a purist and will only eat them with sour cream. She couldn’t believe it when I said Americans eat potato pancakes with applesauce 🙂
These look superb!
Thanks Sydney Life!
Mmmm, makes me hungry for potato pancakes — like my German grandmother used to make. I like them with with applesauce, though my husband (of Polish descent) prefers sour cream.
Ah, so the Germans started the applesauce condiment.
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