Draniki

Making these Belarussian potato pancakes is quite labour-intensive, but the end result is hearty, satisfying and tasty- perfect for a winter evening and well worth the effort.

Preparation time: 20 minutesCooking time: 10 to 20 minutes
Serves: 4Difficulty: Difficult

Ingredients

  • 2 yellow onions
  • Vegetable oil
  • 30g/1oz/1 cup of dried wild mushrooms (or 150g/5oz/2 cups of fresh mushrooms)
  • A pinch of fresh dill
  • Salt and pepper
  • 700g/25oz/4 medium sized yellow or gold potatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon of sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons of plain flour
  • Extra sour cream, to serve

Make it vegan: replace the eggs with six tablespoons of aquafaba, or with some flax egg, which you can make by stirring two tablespoons of ground flaxseed into 5 tablespoons of water. (Leave the flax egg to sit for 5 minutes before using.)
Use a vegan sour cream brand (or try making your own by blending nuts, dairy free yoghurt and flavourings together.)

Special Equipment

  • A box grater or food processor
  • A large mixing bowl
  • A large frying pan
  • A sharp knife
  • A spatula

Method

  1. If using dried mushrooms, re-hydrate them according to their package instructions.
  2. Mince the mushrooms, and peel and finely chop one of the onions. Set a large frying pan over a medium heat and sauté the chopped onion with a little vegetable oil for a few minutes, until it’s soft.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir the mushrooms, dill and a pinch of salt and pepper into the sautéed onion. Spoon the onion and mushroom mixture into a container and set the frying pan aside to use again later.
  4. Peel the potatoes and the remaining onion.
  5. Grate the potatoes into a large mixing bowl using a box grater- use the side with rough, star shaped holes. Be careful and if possible, use protective gloves!
  6. Stir the grated potatoes together. If any starchy liquid settles on the surface, use a spoon to remove about a tablespoon’s worth.
  7. Grate the onion, again using the side of the grater with rough, star shaped holes, and stir it into the grated potatoes.
  8. Finally, stir the egg (or substitute), flour, sour cream and a pinch of salt and pepper into the grated potato and onion.
  9. Set the frying pan over a medium heat and add two tablespoons of oil. Leave it for a couple of minutes to heat up. It’s ready when the oil sizzles if you drop a little potato mixture in it.
  10. When ready, add a tablespoon of the potato mixture to the pan. Flatten it down with the spoon, spoon a teaspoon or so of the mushroom mixture onto it, then spoon another tablespoon of the potato mixture onto the mushroom mixture, so it’s like a little potato-mushroom-potato sandwich. Repeat this process three or four times, so you have a few separate Draniki cooking in the pan at once.
  11. Sauté the Draniki for about four minutes, before gently flipping them over with a spatula and sautéing again on the other side for four minutes more. They’re ready when both sides are golden brown.
  12. Repeat this process until the potato and mushroom mixtures are used up, adding more oil to the pan if necessary. You can keep the finished Draniki warm in the oven while you’re cooking new ones if need be.
  13. Serve the Draniki hot, with lots of sour cream (see tips for serving suggestions.)
  14. Smačna jeści! (Смачна есьці!)

Tips

  • I’ve rated this recipe as ‘difficult’ because grating the potatoes and onion can be quite strenuous, time consuming, and a bit risky for your fingertips! Wear protective gloves when grating as it’s very easy to grate your fingers by accident.
  • To save your fingers and quite a bit of time, you can puree the potatoes and onion in a food processor instead of grating them. But the texture won’t be anywhere near as good-the Draniki mixture is supposed to have the consistency of apple sauce, or of well-mashed banana. So I’d recommend grating them because it’s well worth it, and once you’ve done it the rest of the recipe is plain sailing!
  • You can use fresh or dried mushrooms in Draniki, but dried mushrooms are recommended as they are particularly flavourful.
  • Make sure you use a spoon to flatten down the Draniki mixture a little when you add it to the pan.
  • Try not to flip the Draniki too many times when they’re cooking, or they may disintegrate.
  • Draniki are always served hot, with sour cream. If desired, you can also drizzle them with extra fried onion, extra dill and fresh herbs, and/or berries. You can also serve them up with some Machanka (Belarusian pork stew), and with some Kvass (a non-alcoholic fermented rye drink.) Draniki can be served at any time of day, and were initially usually eaten for breakfast.
  • For a really great traditional Belarusian meal, stew the finished Draniki with meat and vegetables in ceramic or clay cooking pots. Pop half of the Draniki into the pots and cover them in layers of fried vegetables, mushrooms and sausages, then pop the rest of the Draniki on top and pour sour cream over them. Cover the pots and place them in the oven on a low setting for a few hours before serving.

Background

Pronunciation: (DRAAH-neekee)

Home: Belarus, Russia

Relatives: Deruny (Ukraine), Latke (Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine), Placki Ziemniaczane (Poland), Raggmunkar (Sweden), Bramboráky (Czechia), Kartoffelpuffer (Germany), Kartupeļu Pankūkas (Latvia)

History

Draniki are made using two popular Belarusian ingredients: potatoes and mushrooms.

Potatoes were introduced to central and eastern Europe a few centuries ago and, being relatively cheap and easy to grow, quickly became a staple food for poorer people throughout the region. A plethora of potato-based dishes emerged as traditional recipes were tweaked to incorporate the vegetable, including potato pancakes. The earliest such pancake may have been the Ashkenazi Jewish Latke, which likely developed from a mediaeval Ashkenazi fried cream cheese dish. Over the centuries the Ashkenazim began to make rye, buckwheat and turnip based pancakes instead of cream cheese pancakes: when potatoes were later introduced to Europe, they used these instead. Eventually, distinct regional varieties of the potato pancake developed, including the Ukrainian Deruny, Latvian Kartupeļu Pankūkas, Czech Bramboráky, as well as the Belarusian Draniki– which means ‘to tear’ in Belarusian, a reference to how the potatoes are prepared.

Potatoes are ubiquitous in Belarusian cuisine, to the extent that in Russia, Belarusians are sometimes pejoratively nicknamed the Bulbashi– ‘the potato people!’ According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, Belarusians eat more potatoes per capita than any other nation on earth. They enjoy a huge variety of other potato-based dishes besides Draniki, including Babka (soft potato cakes), Kletski (potato dumplings), Tsibriki (cheese stuffed potato balls), Kishka (sausages stuffed with potatoes) and Shchi (soup with potatoes.) Mushrooms are also very popular in Belarus and are found in many dishes besides Draniki.

Minsk, Belarus
Vadim Sazanovich, Minsk. A view of Svislach river, 2015 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Minsk._A_view_of_Svislach_river.jpg [accessed 28/07/2020] (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
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