On Saturday morning, there is a farmer’s market in Adams Morgan. There are always two produce vendors and a European style bakery stall that sells really excellent loaves of hearty, crusty bread. It takes me about a minute to walk from my front door to the market and about thirty minutes to agonize over the selection of fruits and vegetables, trying not to buy everything in sight. Plus, today’s purchase came with a free onion flower!
I spent two summers in college working on a very small organic farm in Maine. You learn a lot of fun vegetable facts on a farm. Did you know that cucumbers are covered in little spines? Did you know that strawberry plants don’t produce any fruit in the first season? Did you know that there are more than 100 varieties of potatoes? And that all you need to start a potato plant is a chunk of an old potato? Did you know that rhubarb leaves are very poisonous? I loved working on the farm. I loved the reward of harvesting food and pulling weeds and squishing potato beetles between my fingers. Sometimes there was something rewarding in the monotony of the tasks themselves, repeating one motion over and over again. I loved being outside all day in the sun or the rain and going to bed at night so physically exhausted that sleep came on suddenly and solidly and nothing could wake me.
I drove myself to the farm everyday in my dad’s car. He always had Grateful Dead’s American Beauty in the CD player and I would listen to “Box of Rain” on repeat for most of the drive. (I told you I was a creature of obsessive habit.) There was something melancholic, organic and soothing about the lyrics and the melody that always inspired me to start a day on the farm: “It’s just a box of rain/I don’t know who put it there/Believe it if you need it/or leave it if you dare/But it’s just a box of rain/or a ribbon for your hair/Such a long long time to be gone/and a short time to be there.” The song stayed on repeat in my head for most of the day, too.
My dad came to the farm every week (and sometimes twice a week) and bought one of everything, plus extra helpings of his favorites: ramps, green beans, peas, radishes, purple potatoes, rainbow chard, elephant garlic, and fresh eggs. He always treated these vegetables with the utmost respect and knew how to highlight them in a meal. So, in honor of the farm and dad, I’m trying to let my farmer’s market vegetables stand alone and sing. Last night, I nearly swooned over leek fritters, which were just a bunch of leeks with an egg and a little flour. They were perfectly crunchy, a little salty and a little sweet. And, tomorrow it’s zucchini’s turn.
Leek Fritters with Garlic and Lemon Cream from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
2 pounds (905 grams) leeks (about 3 very large ones)
½ teaspoon table salt, plus more for pot
2 scallions, trimmed, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced
¼ cup (30 grams) all- purpose fl our
1 teaspoon baking powder
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
1 large egg
Olive or vegetable oil, for frying
½ cup (120 grams) sour cream
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed
Few gratings of fresh lemon zest
Pinches of salt
1 small garlic clove, minced or crushed
Prepare the batter: Trim the leeks, leaving only the white and pale- green parts. Halve them lengthwise, and if they look gritty or dirty, plunge them into cold water and fan the layers about to remove any dirt and grit. On a cutting board, slice the leeks crosswise into ¼- inch strips. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and cook them for 3 to 4 minutes, until they are slightly softened but not limp. Drain, and wring them out in a dish towel or a piece of cheesecloth.
Transfer the wrung-out leeks to a large bowl, and stir in the scallions. In a small dish, whisk together the fl our, salt, baking powder, freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne pepper, if you’re using it. Stir the dry ingredients into the leek mixture, then stir in the egg until the mixture is evenly coated.
Cook the fritters: Preheat your oven to 250 degrees, and place a baking sheet covered in foil inside. Stack a few paper towels on a large plate. In a large, heavy skillet— cast iron is dreamy here— heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Drop small bunches of the leek mixture onto the skillet—only a few at a time, so they don’t become crowded— and lightly nudge them flatter with the back of your spatula. Cook the fritters until they are golden underneath, about 3 minutes. If you find this is happening too quickly, reduce the heat to medium- low; I find I have to jump the heat back and forth a lot to keep it even. Flip fritters, and cook for another 3 minutes on the other side.
Drain the fritters on paper towels, and transfer them to warm oven while you make the remaining fritters.
I like to let the fritters hang out in the oven for at least 10 minutes after the last one is cooked— they stay crisp, and this ensures that they’re cooked through, even if they finished quickly on the stove.
To serve: Whisk together the garlic lemon cream ingredients until smooth. Dollop on each fritter before serving. These fritters are also delicious with a poached or fried egg on top. Trust me.
Do ahead: Fritters keep well, either chilled in the fridge for the better part of a week, or frozen in a well-sealed package for months. When you’re ready to use them, simply spread them out on a tray in a 325-degree oven and heat until they’re hot and crisp again.