Adapted from The Sephardi Culinary Tradition by Elsie Menasce (The Sephardic Cookbook Corporation, South Africa, 1984)
When Elsie Menasce’s ancestors fled Spain at the time of the Inquisition, they settled in Rhodes, then part of the Ottoman Empire. Elsie was born in Rhodesia, in Africa, then later moved to South Africa, where she compiled this cookbook, a celebration of the Sephardi Rhodes community, with its Spanish, Turkish, and Italian influences. Her recipe for leek meatballs adds a unique ingredient—tomato—to this traditional Rosh Hashanah favorite of Judeo-Spanish Jews.
Preparation time: 30 minutes; cooking time: 30 minutes
Yield: 25 meatballs
- 8 medium leeks (about 2 ½ pounds)
- 3 medium-large russet potatoes (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled and quartered
- ¾ pound lean ground beef
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 tomato, skinned and chopped
- flour, for dredging
- olive, sunflower, or canola oil, for frying
- lemon quarters, for serving (optional)
Remove the coarse outer leaves of leeks. Trim the leeks, retaining some of the green parts for color and flavor, then cut them in half lengthwise, and wash them carefully. Coarsely chop them.
Put the leeks and the potatoes in a saucepan with enough cold, salted water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are very tender. Drain well and when cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much moisture as possible from the leeks (it’s easiest to do this with your hands, but you can also use a spoon to press them against a colander). This is very important: if the leeks are too wet, the kyeftes may fall apart.
Coarsely mash the potatoes, and combine them in a food processor with the leeks, meat, 2 of the eggs, about 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste, parsley, and tomato, and pulse to a soft paste. Shape into round, flat patties about 2 ¼ inches in diameter.
Spread the flour on a plate or a sheet of wax paper. Beat the remaining egg in a shallow bowl. Heat a large, heavy skillet until hot, but not smoking. (If the oil is not hot enough, the kyeftes will be greasy.) Dip each patty first into flour and then into the beaten egg. Shallow fry them, in batches as necessary, in the hot oil, turning them carefully once, until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot or room temperature, accompanied, if desired, by lemon quarters.
Kyeftes taste good the following day. They are also delicious simmered for 5-10 minutes in a homemade tomato sauce or with the sauce served separately.