Friday, September 25, 2009

You Don't Have to be French to Love Leeks

As the shadows lengthen into this fall season one particular crop is greeted with great joy in my kitchen. Leeks! I think of them as onions only better. Sweeter, more sophisticated, and milder than onions they are a real treat, but a total pain to deal with because they are so laborious to clean. The sandy layers require plenty of soaking before you can do any cooking.

I had my first leeks in a restaurant in France in the form of leeks vinaigrette. It seemed so audacious to my young 20 year old soul to have a salad made from what looked like a giant scallion. I still love this dish, but it is hard to come by outside of French menus. I guess it hasn’t quite crossed over yet.

As a member of the allium (onion) family leeks are supposed to be easy to grow. I will have to ask the Hook mountain Growers about this. When we get closer to Thanksgiving I will share my time honored recipe of baked leeks in a mustardy cream sauce, first encountered in an issue of Gourmet magazine back in the 90’s.

So with leek season upon us it was a happy discovery when I happened upon this recipe for leek fritters on a web site called Serious Eats. This recipe is right up my alley. Having tried it I have only made the smallest adjustment which is to cut the amount of eggs in half. I also added a few tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs. I am posting the original recipe here with my slight tweaks.

To accompany the fritters I made my own recipe of cardamom scented applesauce. I like to use a combination of different apples in my sauces to create some complexity in the flavor. Any combo will do. This morning I used macintosh and gala apples. I also like to season the applesauce to make it resemble the flavor more of a chutney than a traditional applesauce. This sauce is super easy to make. I like to leave the skins on the apples to add some color. I drop all the ingredients into a pot and cook slowly until nice and thick. If you want it a little fancy put the cooked sauce through a strainer or food mill to create a smooth texture and to remove the skins.

This delicious pair disappeared quickly once I made it. Really good with tons of fall flavor, it would be perfect for the holidays or, well, any time.

Micheal Natkins's Keftes De Prasa (Leek Fritters)
- serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer (about 16 fritters) -
2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large leeks, white and light green parts only (about 12 ounces), halved lengthwise, sliced thinly and washed in 3 changes of water

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, beaten

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (for Passover, use matzo meal)

2 Tbs fresh chopped herbs (parsley, sage, chives, tarragon) (optional)
3/4 teaspoon allspice (optional)

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

1/4 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)

vegetable oil for shallow frying

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over a medium-high flame. (You can use the same skillet to finish the fritters.) Add the leeks and salt and saute for about 5 minutes, until quite wilted.
2. In a bowl, combine the sauteed leeks, salt, eggs, breadcrumbs and the Syrian spices if you are using them. Mix thoroughly. You should have a rather wet batter, not something that you could form into a ball, but with some body. If it is too thin, add a bit more breadcrumbs; or if it is too dry, add another beaten egg. If you are in doubt, fry a test fritter in step 3, then adjust.
3. Add about 1/4 inch of oil to the same skillet and again heat over a medium-high flame. When it is sizzling hot, drop in the batter about two tablespoons at a time, and flatten a bit to form small pancakes. Don't crowd the pan, just do a few at a time. Fry about 1 minute until golden brown on the first side, then flip and cook until the second side is done. Remove the fritters to paper towels and season with sea salt. Serve immediately.

Cardamom Scented Applesauce

3 apples, chopped
½ cup water
½ cup brown sugar
Juice and jest from ½ lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 slices of fresh ginger

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and simmer for 20 minutes until apples break down and the sauce thickens up.
serve warm or cold with fritters

Deb, the pictures are beautiful! Everything looks great - no wonder they disappeared quickly! My husband eats apple sauce with everything - literally. His plate is always sure to have a heaping mound of Mott's Apple Sauce, no matter what the meal. Perhaps I'll surprise him with the "real deal" with this recipe!
 I love leeks too, but I have always had a difficult time cleaning them. So, let me get this straight - they should be sliced up first, and then washed? I think this dish would make a wonderful "side" or starter for Yom Kippur "break the fast"!  As for wine, my first inclination would be to go for a crisp, dry, lively Riesling. Definitely a white for this one. The flavors and complexity of the different apples, along with all of the various Middle-Eastern seasonings would pair perfectly with the apple, pear and spice flavors of the wine. For those of you unfamiliar with Riesling, it is an extremely accomodating wine for spices and foods with challenging flavor profiles (an important tip to be aware of!).  Riesling is so versatile, and is made in a variety of styles that you can most definitely find one to match any type of cuisine, be it Mexican, Indian, Chinese, or Moroccan. This grape can produce wines ranging from dry to very sweet, and light to medium-bodied. For this particular recipe, I would choose a dry, light-bodied style. Look for a "Kabinett" from Germany, or a dry Riesling from Alsace, France.


  1. So glad you made them and liked them Deborah! Your spin on them with the fresh herbs and applesauce sounds delicious.

  2. Thank YOU Michael! I really love this recipe and I know it will become one of my go to's.

  3. I hope you won't correct this typo - it's felicitously right: "Juice and jest from 1/2 lemon."

  4. aha! I was jest noticing that! Thank you. I will leave it :-)


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