Every once in a while, I’m in the mood to cook fancy food. I’m talking stuffed foods, rolled foods, and fritters! While my cooking style is generally ethnic, simple, and hearty, occasionally I like to pretend my house is a pricey farm to table establishment. I have a blast whipping up fancy sauces, experimenting with unusual garnishes, and plating the finished product. It was during one of these fancy food cooking sprees that these crispy beet fritters with leek cream were born, and while they may look and sound hoity-toity, they are actually quite delicious and pretty simple to prepare!
In fact, these crispy beet fritters have familial roots – they are a cross between Borscht (an Eastern European beet soup) and latkes (the infamous Chanukah staple). While the leek cream — especially the dairy-free version — may be a touch beyond what your typical Jewish grandmother would put together, I can’t ignore the role my family history must have played in the creation of this dish.
Don’t be afraid to mix and match different beet varieties when you make these! The first time I made them, I used candy cane beets. The second time I used regular old purple beets. Both were delicious, but I think I ever so slightly preferred the candy cane beets. The beet flavor is just a tad milder and they are so pretty to grate!
Besides experimenting with different beet varieties, one of the other things I really enjoyed about these beet cakes is that you automatically get a bit of beet juice to drink while you’re making them. You latke makers out there probably already know what I’m talking about – yes, just like with potato latkes, you MUST squeeze the moisture from the grated beets. But while nobody in their right mind would ever want to drink the results of this squeezing process when it’s done for potato latkes, the moisture from grated beets just happens to be freshly squeezed beet juice! Delicious! That sweet reward makes the dreaded squeezing process so much more palatable.
By the way, even if you aren’t convinced by the promise of beet juice, do not skip this step! Squeezing the moisture from the veggies is an ultra important step in all latke-making! If you skip it, you’ll get wet, soggy, fritters that won’t hold together well, won’t crisp up well, and will splatter a ton when you put them in the pan. No fun at all!
These fritters are a fantastic appetizer or a light dinner. Serve them on their own, with a side salad, on a bed of arugula, or (for a light dinner) with a poached egg or two on top.
Tips for Pan-Frying:
These tips apply to any recipe that involves pan-frying:
–Choose a neutral flavored oil with a high smoke point. Oils with a low smoke point will start to break down and create harmful free radicals, affecting both the flavor and your health. I like to use grapeseed oil or refined coconut oil. This is NOT the same as unrefined coconut oil, which has a coconuty flavor and a lower smoke point.
-Use the right amount of oil. For pan-frying, the oil should reach about 1/2 way up the item.
–Make sure your burner is set to medium heat. Pan-frying should not be done over high heat. When things are fried at too high of a temperature, the finished product will taste greasy and oily. The outside will cook quickly and the inside will remain raw.
-Make sure your oil is hot before adding your items. You can test this by dropping a tiny piece of the item into the oil. If you hear a sizzle right away, you are good to go. Otherwise, your oil needs to heat up a bit more.
-Don’t overcrowd your pan. Make sure your items have plenty of room to breathe. Always pan-fry in batches!
-Don’t micro-manage the frying process. Once you add your items, let them fry. You obviously don’t want to let them burn, but if you check the underside every couple seconds to see if its done yet, it’ll be hard to get that nice crispy exterior.
A couple notes about the recipe:
-This recipe will yield 8 small fritters.
-This recipe is filed under “nut-free” and “dairy-free.” Since both latkes and borscht are almost always paired with sour cream, the first leek cream recipe I’m posting is sour cream based. However, if dairy is not your thing, I’ve also created a leek cream recipe that uses cashews that have been soaked overnight. Both are quite delicious, but obviously, only the dairy-laden one is nut-free and only the nut-laden one is dairy-free.
-If you have extra leek cream leftover (if you don’t, I’ll be very impressed!), try stirring it into some mashed potatoes. You can also use it on sandwiches, salads, as a dip for veggies/chips, etc. You could also just take a spoon and go for it. No judgment here!
Crispy Beet Fritters with Leek Cream
- 2 cups grated beets (about 2 medium-large beets)
- 1 heaping tablespoon grated onion
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- ½ teaspoon celtic sea salt
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons potato starch
In batches, squeeze the moisture out of the beets. You can use whatever tool you choose – cheesecloth, paper towels, etc. I divided the beets into three parts, wrapped each part in a paper towel, and squeezed the juice over a bowl so I could drink it later. (This was quite painless and took about 3 minutes, if that.) To your dry beets, add the grated onion, dill, and salt. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Mix in the egg, followed by the potato starch. Make sure the potato starch is evenly distributed and that there are no lumps. Form mixture into patties. Pan fry for 3-4 minutes per side until golden brown. (See my tips for pan-frying above.) Drain briefly on paper towels and serve immediately.
Leek Cream (Nut-Free):
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Heaping 1¼ cups chopped leeks (2-4 leeks, depending on size)
- ¾ cup full fat sour cream
- ¼ teaspoon celtic sea salt
- couple pinches celery seasoned celtic sea salt (optional)
Clean the leeks by placing the chopped pieces in a bowl of cold water and swishing them around a couple times. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the leeks (scoop them out with your hands so that all the dirt stays at the bottom of the bowl) and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are softened and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Place the leeks and sour cream in a high-powered blender and blend until smooth. Taste for seasoning and add a couple pinches of celery seasoned celtic sea salt, if needed. Chill before serving.
Leek Cream (Dairy-Free):
- ½ cup cashews that have been soaked overnight (measured after soaking)
- 1¼ cups chopped leeks (2-4 leeks, depending on size)
- ¼ teaspoon celtic sea salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons water
Clean the leeks by placing the chopped pieces in a bowl of cold water and swishing them around a couple times. Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the leeks (scoop them out with your hands so that all the dirt stays at the bottom of the bowl) and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are softened and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Place the leeks, cashews, water, and remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a high-powered blender and blend until smooth. Chill before serving.