Thursday, 7 February 2008

Albondigas di Prasa: Turkish leek meatballs

This past weekend, we had a Young Lady stay with us while her mum and dad went out for an early Valentine's celebration. To celebrate at this end, the YM and I took our guest out to our favourite local izakaya (Japanese tavern) for what I reckon is the best Japanese pub grub you're likely to get, and huge glasses of Calpis (a fermented milk drink) that the YL just about had to climb up on the chair to drink. (Not being a huge fan of Calpis, I had my usual perilla plum wine instead.)

Ichinokura, as the izakaya is called, has been my favourite feeding and watering hole for more years than I care to remember. While Japan is full of fabulous eats, you generally have to loosen the purse strings quite a bit to partake of them. Good food that won't break the budget is less easy to find. But we have consistently enjoyed great food and super-friendly service at Ichinokura since before the YM was even born (he's 13 now). When he was little, the huge scary-looking mask they have on display near the cash register somehow became an obake (ghost), so the restaurant has been known by one and all in our circle as Obake Restuarant ever since. The Young Lady was, it seems, immune to the goul's scare tactics, but certainly not to the food: she gobbled up her fair share.

Overnight, Yokohama was treated to snow (again!) and the Young Lady's mum and dad had to trudge through it all to pick her up. Which was all a good excuse for some more fun in the kitchen, really. This time a leek and potato meatball recipe called out to me, so I gave it a go.

I adapted this from a recipe in The Book of Jewish Food. The original recipe called for deep frying the meatballs, but I am not a huge fan of deep-frying, so I tried shallow-frying them instead. I was so-so about the end result, but when I fried up the remainder of the batch as patties a little later, they were creamy and delicious, just like Claudia promised.

I am fascinated by the name of this dish, which appears to be from Izmir, or Turkey, at least. But Claudia tells us that Albondigas is from the Arabic. I don't know about the di prasa bit, but it sure doesn't sound Turkish to me!

And if any Turkish people reading wonder if this is actually a Turkish dish, Claudia tells us that it is rarely to be found outside of Jewish homes, but it is available from a Muslim-run Jewish restaurant called Kaser Levi Lokantasi. Now that is fusion cooking!

Albondigas di Prasa: Turkish leek meatballs

500 g leeks
2 small potatoes, weighing about 250 g
250 g chicken mince
1 egg
salt and pepper
oil for frying

Trim and wash the leeks and cut them into pieces, then boil them with the potatoes until they are very soft. Drain, and when the vegetables are cool enough to handle [S: note the last point well!], press them between your palms as hard as you can to get all the water out that you possibly can [S: I found wringing them in kitchen paper did the trick]. This is very important in order to make the meatballs firm.

Now put the leeks, potatoes, meat and egg into the food processor with about 1 tsp of salt and pepper and blend to a soft paste. [S: I found my paste a bit "wet", so added some flour to stiffen it up]. Shape into little round flat cakes about 6 cm wide and pan-fry in oil, turning them over once. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot.

Claudia tells us that the creamy meatball/fritters are often served with a fresh tomato sauce made a little sharp with lemon juice. Does that sound like our garlicky and minty sauce from the Iraqi meatballs?? You bet. So this is how we peacefully merged Turkey and Iraq on a plate.

And the response: Cleared plates from everyone except the YL, who was not really in the mood for trying Auntie Saffron's weird culinary creations and had to be brided to try just one little bite (g). Not to worry, though. Mum managed to down the extra portion and the YL "made do" with rice and furikake (dried fish and vegetable flake topping) to fortify herself for the snow-slowed trudge home.



Laurie Constantino said...

hi - interesting recipe. i'm wondering about the potatoes - how many did you use (the recipe doesn't say). by the way, prasa means leek in greek - the turkish word for leek is pirasa.

Saffron said...

Hi Laurie and thanks for stopping by.

How could I miss the main ingredient?? I'll check the original recipe and fix it tonight.

Thanks also for the hands up on the prasa. Perhaps it was a typo? There are more than 800 recipes in The Book of Jewish Food, so it would almost be a miracle if there were none.

Holly Chase said...

This is right up my alley-- literally--- for I know the Kaser Levi restaurant in Istanbul and send people there. It is tucked away on a tiny street outside the Istanbul Spice Market.

(As a writer and specialist in Middle Eastern material culture,I organize customized gastronomic and other focused travel programs-- I specialize in Turkey-- and this sort of arcane info is what I love to pass on.)

Anyway-- your other commentators are correct about prasa/pirasa... and its origins.

The root of albondiga is quite wonderful--

It IS from the Arabic al bunduq, or "nut" (specifically a hazelnut/filbert). A meatball is small and round, so one can see how the Spanish word was drawn from the Arabic (as so many Iberian culinary words were).

On a different tack-- al-bunduqiyya is also the Arabic word for rifle-- because nut-wood (probably walnut) was prized for gun-stocks.... so the word has morphed to suit the craft.

Now-- for how that word got to Turkey: When Muslims AND Jews were forced from Spain in 1492, many sought new lives in other Mediterranean and Balkan realms under the Ottoman Turks, who welcomed them. The 15th century Spanish of the refugees became the basis for Ladino, the language of the Jews who found new homes throughout the Ottoman Empire.

Ladino's grammar is basically medieval Spanish-- but it has incorporated many words from Greek, Turkish, Arabic, Italian, French, & Hebrew. And--it has been written in different script-- Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, Cyrillic, and Greek!

For a taste of Turkish cosmopolitanism-- those meatballs are perfect!

Holly Chase

Saffron said...

Thanks Holly for stopping by and for your wonderful insight into albondigas and how the word made its way to Turkey. These things always fascinate me.

How lovely that Kaser Levi still exists. The more I read about Turkey, the more fascinating it becomes. I will definitely be visiting again sometime, and will be sure to look Kaser Levi up!

Good luck with your business, too; it looks like a lot of fun.