Eating Jewish: Sephardic Leek Patties
Once you’ve read this post, get to the kitchen and make this recipe because these leek patties are delicious. I even think that these might be one of my favorite recipes I’ve made for the blog so far. They’re satisfying and comforting, in the way that dishes with potatoes in them usually are, and the perfect thing to eat at his time of year when it’s getting colder outside. They are ideal Hanukkah fare but I also know that this recipe will make a recurring appearance in my kitchen throughout the rest of the year as well.
Although it’s easy to take for granted that Hanukkah has always been celebrated in the way it presently is, it was interesting to read, in Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish food, that Hanukkah hasn’t always been the prominent holiday we know today. Prior to the twentieth century it was a minor winter festival during which only a few prayers were added to services but no other rituals were carried out at the synagogue. It was due to this status and because it had not been designated as a time of feasting as was the case with other Jewish holidays, that there were no particular dishes associated with Hanukkah. It was in approximately the fourteenth century that two types of foods, namely fried foods and dairy foods, became associated with the holiday.
These leek patties known as keftes are essentially fried patties that can be made from a variety of ingredients, such as vegetables, ground meat, chicken or fish and can sometimes also be simmered in a sauce. Prior to their expulsion, Jews living in Spain used ground meat to prepare dishes similar in character known as albondigas (meatballs) or rollos (meat loaves). Upon settling in the Ottoman Empire after they were forced to leave Spain, the Sephardim encountered and in turn adapted the Middle Eastern kufta by changing certain elements of it, thus resulting in what we now know as keftes. Although they are served on holidays, keftes are also everyday food in the Sephardic community.
One warning I would like to give you about these patties is that they are addictive. Looking at these golden nuggets piled on a plate, they appear to be deceivingly simple, but their flavor is anything but. Their crunchy golden exterior surrounds a soft interior made up of the classic combination of leeks and potatoes. Although the original recipe didn’t call for it, I decided to add Aleppo pepper to the patties that adds a subtle hint of spiciness and smokiness to them, and if you happen to have some I would definitely recommend using it. These could be served as an appetizer at your Hanukkah meal, but they would also make a lovely main course served alongside a salad. Whenever you choose to serve them, make sure to squeeze some fresh lemon juice over them, which brightens their flavors and in turn lends lightness to the patties through its tart citrus taste.
I hope that these leek patties not only become part of your Hanukkah meals, but also make it into your regular culinary repertoire.
Sephardic Leek Patties (Keftes de prasa)
Adapted from Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food
2 pounds (6 medium or 4 large) leeks (white and light green parts only), halved lengthwise, thinly sliced and rinsed
1 cup mashed potatoes
½ cup to 1 cup Panko or breadcrumbs
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
2 to 4 cloves garlic, finely grated or finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ to ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper and chili flakes
About ¼ - ½ cup vegetable oil for frying
Lemon wedges, to serve alongside patties
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the leeks, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and let cool. Squeeze out the excess liquid.
In a large bowl, combine the leeks, potatoes, and breadcrumbs. Add the eggs, 1 tablespoon oil, garlic, salt, pepper, Aleppo pepper and chili flakes. If the mixture is too soft to form into patties, add more breadcrumbs. For each patty, take about 2 tablespoons of the leek mixture and form into ovals that are ½ inch thick.
In a large skillet, heat about ¼ inch oil over medium-high heat. In batches, fry the patties, turning once, until they are golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Make sure not to overcrowd the pan, or the patties will not cook properly. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot or at room temperature along with lemon wedges.