A few weeks ago, in San Francisco, I was wandering around Pacific Heights after finishing an awesome breakfast and popped in to a charming news shop in search of a thank-you card for a friend who graciously let us take over her (adorably decorated) studio apartment for the weekend.
Aside from inexpensive street flowers and dirt cheap mani/pedi’s, one thing that cities just seem to nail are news shops. Of course anywhere you can dash into a Walgreens for your monthly fix, and there usually is something palatable to be had in the check out line at the grocery store — but for those hard to find gems and international glossies, a good news shop is essential.
After finding the perfect card (a letter-pressed specimen with a Frenchie and the words “Merci Beaucoup!” emblazoned on the front), I found myself plunking down an extra $10 for an issue of Donna Hay magazine. It’s undoubtedly an exorbitant price to pay for a magazine, but if you’ve ever seen a Donna Hay magazine, then you’ll know why I felt totally justified. (James on the other hand might not agree.)
With her fresh aesthetic and simple yet impossibly elegant recipes, Hay is Australia’s answer to Martha Stewart, or Ina Garten – but younger, hipper, and trading out upstate New York and the Hamptons for the Outback (or something like that). The weighty issue beckoned to me with an incredibly gorgeous cover photo of spring pea and mint risotto, and was packed with light and Spring-y recipes that sounded perfect for weaning myself off of a steady diet of Winter fare and a triumphant football season full of buffalo wings (and sandwiches!).
Truthfully, in the past I have found that Donna’s recipes are not perfect; I’m never one to follow a recipe to the “T”, as they say, and her recipes have this fantastic airy vagueness that I think would provide lackluster results should you lack the confidence or creativity to riff a little bit. There are never any major flaws, however, and the bones of a great recipe are always there – you just might need to tweak here and there to get the end result you are looking for. These sweet potato and pea cakes caught my eye, and and I thought this hardy-yet-healthy recipe would be perfect alongside the roasted whole trout that I had planned for last Sunday’s supper.
I already had everything I needed on hand (love that!), and even had a pile of the called-for mint and basil begging to be thrown into something delicious. These fritters are unbelievable – they are fresh and light, yet weighty enough to stand on their own, with crispy caramelized outsides and fluffy and light interiors. True to form, I changed a few things – adding grated garlic and lemon zest into the batter for punch and some zip, and increasing the buttermilk by 1/4 cup to achieve what I thought to be the proper batter-thickness – and they were perfection.
Donna says that this recipe makes enough for 4 people, but for the two of us I only fried off half of the batter, and still had leftovers; perhaps as a main course they would feed 4 (and very well, at that), but I think this recipe makes enough for 6, as a side dish, or as a light lunch with a salad. Hold off on cooking off more cakes than you think you’ll need – I found that the batter only improved after a night in the fridge, and absorbed all the fresh flavors of the vegetables even more.
These cakelets are perfect for sneaking veggies under your kids noses and into their mouths, and are wonderful served with a dollop of 2% Greek yogurt and a sprinkling of fresh mint. This is the first of at least twenty recipes I’ll be pilfering and tweaking from Donna, and this magazine will hold court on my shelf permanently with the cookbooks – a $10 well spent, if you ask me.
Sweet Potato and Pea Cakes
Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine, Issue 65
I’ve tweaked the original recipe a bit, adding 1/4 cup more buttermilk and some lemon zest. If you have a food processor, use it to shred the potato; though you could do it by hand, the processor makes quick and even work out of what would be an arduous process by hand.
2 cups (300g) flour
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
1 clove garlic
kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
zest of one lemon
2 cups frozen peas
1 large sweet potato, grated (about 2 cups)
1/3 cup chopped mint
1/2 cup chopped basil
Greek yogurt, for serving
Preheat your oven to 200F. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour, eggs, buttermilk, garlic and lemon zest. Mix in a good pinch of kosher salt and fresh pepper, and then gently stir in the peas, sweet potato, mint, and basil.
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, and add enough oil to just coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is shimmering, cook 1/4 cup of the mixture, in batches, for 3-4 minutes per side, until golden brown and cooked through. Keep the cooked cakes in the oven while you finish cooking off the batter – these cakes taste best warm with crisp exteriors, so be sure not to pile them on top of each other (which would cause them to steam and become soggy).
Serve immediately with a dollop of Greek yogurt and a few fresh mint leaves.