Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Tortillitas of spinach are a Spanish take on latkes.

After I light the first Hanukkah candle at sundown, I won’t be serving potato latkes. I will be frying Spanish tortillitas, vegetable fritters, a Sephardic recipe that also belongs to today’s Spanish cooking.

I have long suspected that traditional Spanish cooking includes many dishes that derive from Spain’s Jewish heritage. While the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, many of them stayed on as converts to Christianity. They may have abandoned the kosher food laws, adding pork to the Sabbath stew pot, but kept many beloved dishes.

In Spain these fritters—always fried in olive oil—are called tortillitas if they are more like little pancakes or buñuelos if they are puffy balls. They are served as a light supper dish, perhaps with a salad. I like them as a side with a meat dish or as a lunch or brunch entree.

Olive oil lights.
I love Hanukkah, “The Feast of Lights”—so appropriate on a dark winter solstice evening to light up the room with candles and good food. I sometimes use old-fashioned olive oil lights on my dining table. These are cups partially filled with water and topped with about a finger’s depth of olive oil on which floats a tiny wick, called in Spain a mariposa, “butterfly.”

Tortillitas de Puerros
Leek Pancakes

This version of tortillitas includes cheese. Use semi-cured Manchego or any not-too-hard grated cheese. This can be made with grated zucchini in place of the leeks.

Fry the pancakes in batches, keeping them warm in a low oven until they are all prepared.

Makes about 15 small pancakes.

Leek fritters.
4 cups chopped leeks (about 1 pound)
3 tablespoons olive oil plus more for frying
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 eggs, beaten
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup grated Manchego cheese
¼ cup chopped parsley
Pinch of dried thyme

Sauté the chopped leeks in 3 tablespoons of oil until they are very tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Put the sauteed leeks in a bowl with the eggs, flour and baking powder. Stir to combine well. Stir in the grated cheese, parsley and thyme. (The batter can be prepared 2 to 3 hours before cooking.)

Place oil to a depth of ¼ inch in a heavy skillet and heat on medium fire. Add spoonfuls of the batter to the pan. Smooth them lightly to make discs and allow to cook until golden on the bottom. Turn the pancakes and brown them on the reverse side. Remove and drain on absorbent paper. Continue frying the pancakes, adding more oil to the skillet as needed. Serve hot.

Tortillitas de Espinacas
Spinach Fritters

These fritters can be made with either spinach or chard. I used chard from my garden, both stems and leaves. Cook them until tender so they are easily pureed. Drain well before combining with the other ingredients.

Makes about 20 small pancakes.

Spinach fritters.
2 cups cooked spinach or chard
2 eggs, separated
1 clove garlic
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons water
Pinch of cumin seed
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Olive oil for frying

Place the spinach, egg yolks, garlic, flour, baking powder and water in a blender. Blend until fairly smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Place in a mixing bowl.

Beat the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Beat in the vinegar. Stir a quarter of the egg whites into the spinach mixture and combine lightly. Then fold in the remaining whites.

Heat ¼ inch of oil in a heavy skillet. Drop spoonfuls of batter and flatten them slightly. Let brown on the bottom, then turn and cook reverse side. Drain on absorbent paper. Continue frying fritters, adding more oil to the skillet as needed. Serve the fritters hot or room temperature.


  1. Riquisimas !!! Me ha traido gratos recuerdos las "mariposas" como las llamaba mi abuela siempre tenía encendidas delante de los santos y en memoria de sus seres queridos......
    Se nota que ha vivido Vd. en mi tierra, en el Sur.
    Un cordial saludo desde "Mi cocina"

  2. Carmen Rosa: Las luces de aceite son un encanto. Felicidades para todas las fiestas de este tiempo.

  3. Mmmm! I've bookmarked the leek recipe to make this month. I've never cooked with leeks before and this seems like a great recipe to start with.

  4. Cassandra: You can use leeks instead of onions in almost any recipe. Leeks are especially good in fish dishes.

  5. My spinach fritters were a disaster, so thick the blender could not mix it. I had to add much more water. Any ideas where I went wrong?

    1. Nina: Oh dear! Perhaps it was a difficulty in measurement conversions. One cup flour (standardized US measures) = 125 grams plain flour. And, perhaps the cooked spinach was especially dry. I'll make these fritters again soon and let you know.