The book is an exploration of Jewish culinary history in the Mediterranean region. Joyce Goldstein, the author, discusses how Sephardic Jews, who left Spain in the fifteenth century CE, adapted to the cuisines of their new homelands. There are Jewish recipes from Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, and Greece. Myself being Greek, I focused mostly on the Greek recipes, and particularly on the one for leek fritters. These delectable meatballs are a favourite of the Sephardim, who make them in both vegetarian and meat versions.
The Jews of Greece are Sephardim, descendants of those who were forced out of Spain in 1492, as a result of the Spanish Inquisition. The word “Sephardim” is derived from "Sepharad," the Hebrew word for Spain. After 1492, a large number of Sephardim found refuge in the Greek city of Thessaloniki (Salonika), where they established a thriving community. Its pre-World War II population numbered approximately 56,000, making Thessaloniki the largest Sephardic centre in the world. Unfortunately, the Thessaloniki Sephardim suffered greatly in the Holocaust. From fifty-six thousand souls, only an approximate two thousand survived Auschwitz-Birkenau to return home. How were they able to rebuild their lives after so much suffering? It was an immense and continual struggle for each of them to pick up one by one the pieces of their lives and attempt to become whole.
My family, who are Thessaloniki natives, had developed friendships in the Sephardic community. One gentleman who was a close friend gave us one of his favourite recipes, leek fritters with meat, and we made it for him often. We too also loved those leek fritters! I remember them sitting on the kitchen counter, freshly cooked and aromatic. "Don't touch," my mother would say to me. I had to wait my turn. Adults got served first, then children. I kept counting them as they were being plated, wondering how many would be left for me.
Through the years that recipe for leek fritters was lost. Weren't we lucky to find this delectable version nestled among the pages of the cookbook "Sephardic Flavors?"
3 pounds leeks
3/4 pound ground beef
3 slices rustic bread, crusts removed, soaked in water, and squeezed dry. (The recipe allows substituting 2 mashed potatoes for the bread. I tried this, but to me, the fritters taste better with the bread)
2 eggs separated
2 eggs separated
3 tablespoons walnuts, ground up well in a food processor
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, chopped well
2 shallots, chopped well
salt and pepper to taste
all-purpose flour for dredging
vegetable oil for frying
- Clean the leeks well! Cut off the root end and most of the green part. Slice them lengthwise and then crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces. Soak them in water to remove any leftover dirt, then drain them.
- Place them in a pot with salted water to cover, and simmer until the leeks are soft, about 25 minutes. Drain well.
- In a bowl combine the leeks, ground beef, bread, egg yolks, walnuts, parsley, garlic and shallots. Season with salt and pepper and knead until the mixture holds together well.
- Form them into balls about 2 inches in diameter, and then flatten them a bit.
- Pour canola oil to a depth of 1 inch into a medium saucepan and heat the oil.
- Meanwhile spread some flour on a plate, and in a bowl beat the egg whites until they get frothy (not stiff).
- When the oil is hot, dip the meatballs in the flour and then in the egg whites. Add them to the oil in batches and fry them until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon transfer the fritters to paper towels and allow to drain.
- Arrange on a platter and serve with lemon wedges.
- Left Leftover fritters can be reheated in tomato sauce. Also, the bread crumbs and flour listed in the recipe can be substituted by matzoh meal.