I still can’t get over the fact that it’s December. But here it is, and Hanukkah (Chanukah) starts tomorrow evening, in all it’s fried glory. Being in Israel for the holiday means sufginyot (jelly donuts) everywhere, latkes on the cover of every food magazine, and huge menorahs around town. My favorite, though, is sticking my head out the window on the first night of Hanukkah and smelling the frying oil in the thick, greasy air. It’s fried food heaven, and it’s glorious.Home in New York, Hanukkah means shredded potato pancakes (and lots of them) with my husband’s family. In Israel, I’ve been exposed to the wide world of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish cuisine, which goes well beyond latkes (although nothing will ever surpass my mother-in-laws latkes). There are the sufginyot that explode in bakeries around the country. They come with various fillings, or can be presented as a large donut hole, more like a beignet than an American donut (they are lighter, not as sweet, and less cakey). Then there are Sephardic bimuelos and North African sfenj, both of which are variations on the fried, sweet dough theme.
In Istanbul last spring I tasted my first kefte de prasa, or leek patty, and was hooked. These leek, potato, and feta pancakes are a non-traditional riff on that recipe. Crispy on the outside and creamy in the middle, lightly flavored with cumin, and perfectly fried, they’re two-bite fried wonders. Plus, since they use mashed potato instead of breadcrumbs as an adhesive, they’re naturally gluten free!
- ½ pound potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 5-6 leeks (white and light green parts), trimmed and cleaned
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ cup crumbled feta or Bulgarian cheese
- 1 egg
- Salt and pepper
- Vegetable or canola oil, for frying
- Boil and mash the potatoes (or use 1 cup leftover mashed potatoes). Put in a mixing bowl and set aside.
- Boil the leeks until very soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain and allow to cool fully. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible, then mix in food processor until smooth (or chop finely by hand).
- Add the leeks to the potatoes and along with the cumin, feta and egg. Season with salt and pepper. Mix together thoroughly with your hands until fully combined (the mixture will be quite moist, but you should still be able to form small pancakes).
- Form into small patties. Heat oil in a large skillet until very hot and fry the patties until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
- Serve immediately with sour cream, if you like. Alternately, keep warm in a 200F oven (but they're really best right away).
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