Christine Burns Rudalevige flips a sweet potato and cheddar fritter in safflower oil. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

I have no intention of frittering away root vegetables that come my way as Maine’s traditional growing season draws to a close. I will return to the proverbial root cellar time and again so I can make fritters – my failsafe trick to curbing wintertime food waste.

American fritters come, more or less, in four varieties: basic fried dough (think doughnut); fruit speckled fried dough (apple fritters); vegetable or seafood speckled fried batter (hushpuppies, conch fritters, croquets); and shredded vegetables that are held together with a bit of batter before spending just a few minutes in hot oil – these are the ones I’m talking about.

Root vegetables – from beets to yams with carrots, kohlrabi, parsnips, rutabagas, sweet potatoes and turnips in between – are abundant, affordable and local fare. And fritters can take these Maine-grown underground plant parts anywhere in the world – from Southeast Asia, where shredded vegetables are bound with shrimp and rice flour, and India, where they are called both pakora and bhaji depending which vegetables are present, to South Africa, where sweet potatoes are the favorite fritter ingredient, and Japan, where Kakiage is a type of tempura made with a variety of vegetables cut into thin strips.

The formula for making fritters from any vegetables you happen to have on hand is simple addition. One and a half pounds of shredded vegetables plus one cup of filler (typically a combination of flour and cheese) plus a quarter cup chopped aromatics plus two eggs equals enough batter to make 12, 3- to 4-inch patties that turn into fritters after sitting a spell in hot oil. Fritters’ flavor pop when seasoned well, so as soon as you lift them out of the oil to drain on a recycled paper bag, sprinkle them with salt. You can also bake these, but you’ll have to find another name for the end product, as the Latin root to the noun “fritter” means “to fry”.

I turn to the “Flavor Bible,” an encyclopedic volume authored by Karen Pare and Andrew Dornenburg, that simply lists the best ingredient pairing – to tailor what other flavors get mixed into the root vegetable fritters. For beets, I might run with chives, orange juice, tarragon and a grated goat cheese. For carrots, I can go with cilantro, onions, preserved lemons and harissa for a North African flare. For parsnip fritters, I like to combine honey, mustard, parsley and an Alpine-style local cheese.

Root vegetable fritters are great hot for dinner alongside a middle-of-the-plate protein for a heavier meal, or served as the main event with a side salad for a lighter one. They are good reheated and served with a fried egg on top for breakfast. And they make an interesting room-temperature vegetarian sandwich filling in a packed lunch.

Any time you’re going to serve fritters, make sure there is a dipping sauce that helps them shine.

If your fritters have potatoes in the mix, create an easy aioli by combining a quarter cup of mayonnaise with a bit each of grated garlic and lemon juice. If you have sour cream or yogurt on hand, add lime zest and juice to create crema. If your fritters seem a bit flat by themselves, top them with hot sauce. If your recipe has taken a turn toward Asian, serve the fritters with a sweet and sour chili sauce.

Fritters can be driven by what’s in your vegetable drawer, go anywhere your spice rack can take you, and provide a nutritious meal that keeps a body motoring on through your next four Zoom meetings. Don’t waste the chance to perfect this easy technique on every root vegetable you find in the cellar.

Sweet Potato and Cheddar Fritters with Lime Crema. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Sweet Potato and Cheddar Fritters with Lime Crema

Makes 12 fritters

1½ pounds sweet potatoes (three small, two medium or one large)
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup chopped green onion, plus a few extra for garnish
2 minced garlic cloves
1-2 tablespoons mince chipotle chili in adobo
2 eggs
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more after frying
Vegetable oil, for frying
Lime wedges for garnish

1/2 cup plain sour cream
Zest and juice from 1 lime
1 small garlic clove, grated

Wash potatoes and grate them using the large holes on your cheese grater or the grating attachment to your food processor. Combine shredded sweet potatoes in a large bowl with cheese, flour, green onions and chili in adobo. In a measuring cup, whisk eggs, maple syrup and salt. Add egg mixture to sweet potato mixture and combine so the batter is evenly moistened with the eggs.

To make the crema, combine sour cream, lime zest and juice and garlic. Set aside.

Warm a half inch of oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Start forming the fritters by taking a handful of the sweet potato mixture and gently pressing it into a 3-inch wide patty about ½ an inch thick. When the oil is hot (about 365 degrees), gently slide one fritter into the oil. Don’t crowd the pan, you will need to cook the fritters in batches. Fry the fritters for 3-4 minutes per side, gently pressing down on them so they stick together better. Adjust the heat if they brown too quickly. Transfer the fritters to a recycled paper bag to drain. Sprinkle each hot fritter with a pinch of salt. You can hold cooked fritters in a 200-degree oven while you repeat the process with the remaining batter.

Serve warm with lime crema, or cool completely and store in the refrigerator for two days or the freezer for two months. Reheat thawed fritters gently in a 250-degree oven.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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