I’ve always loved pancakes. My Mum being French, crêpes were a staple supper growing up. Shrove Tuesday or not. Perhaps it’s for this reason that frying dollops of batter until golden, then eating them hot or cold the next day is so appealing to me. And I’m not just talking pancakes – as long as they can be made into a mixture to be dolloped or ladled into a hot pan and fried with butter, I’m happy. Scrap the eggs, milk and flour, and bring in beaten eggs and gratings of mature cheese for a quick omelette, or grate leftover cooked potato, combine it with butter and fry up a potato rosti or follow the same rule with just about any veggies, grated or chopped up and mixed with an egg, a bit of flour and whatever herbs or spices. These are fail-safe, comfort meals, made up from the back of an almost empty fridge.
I’ve often searched for recipe variations on the humble fritter, and indeed, many cookbooks offer up their own versions. Grated seasonal vegetables, beans or leftover grains form the base, livened up with chopped herbs or spices, little orbs of melted cheese, and perhaps bacon for spikes of saltiness.
Anna Jones rolls her avocado, quinoa and kale fritters in polenta for extra crispiness, which may be an added faff but probably very worthwhile. Tom Hunt, author of The Natural Cook, adds little bombs of crumbled feta to strips of courgette and herbs and Honey & Co follow a similar rule, but it’s Ottolenghi’s a’ja bread fritters that have me repeatedly going back for more.
As he explains in his appetite-inducing cookbook, Jerusalem, these Tripolitan fried wonders are, “one among endless kinds of vegetable or herb-based bread fritters and omelettes that are rife all over the city”.
These are more a cross between an omelette and a fritter, using leftover stale bread that’s been soaked in water, which is then drained and combined with eggs, fresh tarragon (I used mint), parsley, crumbled feta, cumin and paprika. They might not sound so appetising, something Ottolenghi pointedly concedes, but try them and you’ll be convinced – they really are comfort food at its best. Serve them as part of a mezze of salads and dips, or eat them cold, stuffed into a pitta for lunch (especially good if suffering from a carb-craving hangover).
Ottolenghi suggests adding leftover grated veg if you like, but I didn’t do that, and it takes nothing away from the end result. Or play with the herbs and spices – as he points out, there are many different variations across the Middle East, so use the bread and eggs as a base and do what makes most sense to you.
Ottolenghi’s A’ja (bread fritters)
Makes 8 fritters
4 white bread slices, crusts removed (80g)
4 large free-range eggs
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
a few fresh chives
a few sprigs of fresh parsley
2 sprigs of fresh mint
40g feta cheese
oil, for frying
Soak the bread in lots of cold water for 1 minute, then squeeze well. Crumble the soaked bread into a medium bowl, then crack in the eggs, spices, ½ a teaspoon of sea salt and ¼ of a teaspoon of black pepper, and whisk well. Chop and mix in the parsley and mint leaves, and crumble in the feta.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium frying pan on a medium-high heat. Spoon 3 tablespoons of the mixture into the centre of the pan and flatten it using the underside of a spoon so the fritter is 2cm to 3cm thick. Fry for 4 to 6 minutes, or until golden, turning halfway. Repeat with the remaining batter, then serve.
Adapted from Jerusalem (Ebury Press)