Keftes are Sephardic Jewish fried fritters. They can take on any number of forms; some are made with meat, some with potatoes or vegetables. Keftes often make an appearance on the Hanukkah table because they are fried in oil, which is customary for Hanukkah dishes. My favorite keftes are the lighter, healthier ones made from vegetables—in particular, spinach.
Spinach was originally grown in Asia; it didn’t make it to the Mediterranean until the 8th century A.D. The first Middle Eastern country to cultivate it was Persia; historically, spinach became known as the Persian Green. Since that time, it has been a very popular vegetable throughout the Middle East, prized for its distinct flavor and a myriad of health benefits. Keftes are just one of many ways that spinach is enjoyed by Sephardic Jews.
This Keftes de Espinaca recipe is vegetarian and pareve, which means you can serve it with either a kosher dairy meal or a meat meal. If you have a family member who is reluctant to eat green leafy vegetables, these keftes may just get them to reconsider! They make a wonderful appetizer, and can also be eaten as a vegetarian entrée when combined with your favorite legume. I like to place each kefte on a bed of lentils, like this (recipe for lentil base appears below):
If you don’t mind making this into a dairy dish, it’s delicious topped with a little Greek yogurt.
Make sure you serve these little fritters fresh out of the pan. If they sit out too long, they’ll lose their crispy texture.
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KEFTES DE ESPINACA
½ onion, minced
½ cup plus 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil
2 cloves crushed garlic
½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
10 oz. fresh spinach, rinsed and dried
½ cup matzo meal
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1-2 fresh lemons cut into wedges
Makes about 1 dozen keftes.
Kosher Key: Pareve, Kosher for Passover.
Warm 1 tbsp of olive or grapeseed oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté minced onion for 5 minutes till translucent. Add crushed garlic, sauté for two minutes longer. Remove from heat, add cayenne pepper to the pan. Stir till cayenne is thoroughly blended with the onion mixture. Place onion mixture in a food processor.
Add fresh spinach leaves, egg, matzo meal, salt and pepper to the food processor. Pulse the mixture for about 45 seconds until it becomes thick and suitable for forming patties. Do not over-process or you’ll end up with a runny mess.
In the same skillet where you cooked the onions, warm ½ cup oil over medium heat to about 365 degrees F, or until a piece of bread sizzles and browns when you add it to the pan. Form spinach mixture into slider-sized patties and place into the hot oil in small batches. Fry keftes till they are brown on both sides. Place on a paper towel or rack to drain.
Serve garnished with fresh lemon wedges. Keftes are meant to be topped with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, it really enhances the flavor of this dish! Makes about a dozen keftes.
LENTIL BASE FOR KEFTES
1 cup brown or green dry lentils
4 cups water
1/2 tsp cumin
Juice from 1/2 a lemon, or more to taste
Salt to taste
Coarse ground black pepper to taste
Makes about 3 cups of cooked lentils.
Kosher Key: Pareve, Kosher for Sephardic Passover (contains kitniyot).
Rinse and sort the lentils, drain. Place in a small pot, cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low. Cover pot with a small opening to vent. Simmer lentils for 45-50 minutes, stirring occasionally, until broth is fully absorbed and lentils are tender. Remove from heat. Season with cumin, then add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
Place cooked lentils by ¼ cupfuls onto small salad plates. Place a hot kefte on top of each bed of lentils. Garnish with a wedge of lemon. Serve warm.