Keftes de prasa: Sephardic leek fritters for Chanukah
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Keftes de prasa: Sephardic leek fritters for Chanukah

A twist on the typical latke

We celebrate Chanukah for eight days and nights, which gives us so many opportunities to make special meals and memories at home.

Like most of my neighbors, I make potato latkes for the holiday, but we especially look forward to having keftes de prasa, which are typical in Ladino-speaking Sephardic communities. In Syrian communities, these fritters are called edjeh.

I love keftes, and they are a staple at holiday meals. They are typically served for Rosh Hashanah and Passover, but I always make them for Chanukah as well. I use the same recipe year-round, and these are perfect for the holiday because they are pan-fried in olive oil.

There are so many kinds of keftes; some have different herbs and some use boiled and mashed potato. Other versions use spinach, Swiss chard and onion.

I like this simple version that reminds me of Chinese scallion pancakes. They fry up beautifully, so I make them several times during the holiday week. I especially like to serve them with crispy chicken schnitzel.

If you’re looking for a new vegetable latke recipe, this is the perfect thing to try.

Ingredients:
3-4 whole leeks, about 1.25 pounds
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons matzo meal
⅓ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper or Aleppo pepper
1/16 teaspoon allspice (optional)
⅓ cup olive oil for pan-frying

Leeks tend to be sandy, so I suggest soaking them before cooking. If you purchased whole leeks with the dark leafy green tops, prepare them by cutting off the bottom and cutting off the dark green part as well. Set those aside to use later — leeks add a beautiful flavor to homemade soup stocks — just be sure it wash them well before cooking.

Cut the leeks lengthwise before cutting each half into about 1-inch-wide chunks. You should have about 3 cups of leek slices.

Fill a large pot halfway with water and a teaspoon of salt.

Add the sliced leeks to the pot and allow the leeks to soak in the water for about 10 minutes. Drain the water. If the water had a lot of sand or bugs, repeat this step until there isn’t any sediment in the bottom of the water when checked.

Drain and rinse the sliced leeks in a colander.

Fill up the same pot halfway again with water and a teaspoon of salt.

Add the sliced leeks to the salted water and put the pot onto the stove at a high temperature to boil. Once the water starts to boil rapidly, reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes.

Drain the leeks in a colander and set the colander back onto the empty pot to cool. Any extra water will drain into the pot.

Once the leeks are cool to the touch, press them with the back of a spoon or a spatula the same way that you would press water out of spinach before cooking with it.

While the leeks are cooling, whisk the eggs and mix in the matzo meal and spices. Allow the mixture to sit for about 10 minutes. This will give the matzo meal time to soften, which will give you a lighter fritter. Mix the cooked leeks into the egg and matzo meal mixture and stir well. You may see some small pools of egg, which is normal. If the mixture looks sloppy, add another tablespoon of matzo meal and let the bowl sit for a few minutes before frying.

(A note about the optional allspice: This spice is used strongly in some recipes and not at all in others. My husband prefers it to be used sparingly, but he notices if I omit the spice completely. If allspice in savory food is not your cup of tea (most Americans think of it as a baking spice), then omit it. If you like the spice, then you can double the suggested amount and adjust to taste.)

Put a frying pan over medium heat and add the olive oil to the pan. Allow the oil to warm for a few minutes. I love to use olive oil for both health and for the flavor it gives to fried food, but you need to be mindful of the heat of the pan so the oil doesn’t burn.

For large fritters, I measure the mixture using a ¼-cup measuring cup. Measure the desired amount and use the back of the measuring cup or a spoon to flatten out the fritter before adding another one. Don’t overcrowd your frying pan. It’s OK if only 3 or 4 fit in at a time.

Fry for 3-4 minutes on the first side. Check to see if it’s golden brown before flipping it over to fry for an additional 3 minutes.

For small fritters, use about 2 tablespoons per serving. Cook for 3 minutes on the first side, turn and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Once cooked, remove them to a tray lined with paper towels to drain the grease.

You can serve these as quickly as they can cool. I typically have a line of people in the kitchen looking for a fresh one right out of the pan.

This recipe makes about 8 large pieces or about 14 small ones. If you love the flavor, you can easily double the recipe.

Chanukah alegre! Chanukah sameach! May we see victory and miracles with our own eyes. Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC

Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.

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