Some people might find it hard to believe that a Latina can be a vegetarian for 10+ years. Eradicating meat from my diet as a way to eat more healthfully was easy… but, certain things are engrained so deep down in our heritage we just can’t change them that easily.
A life without FRITURAS??? That is something else all-together.
Fried foods are not necessarily considered healthy, but my take is this: when eaten in moderation, why not? Growing up in Puerto Rico with strong influence from my Cuban family, I certainly inherited a love for fried foods. Two of my favorite frituras tied to many childhood memories are Croquetas and Bacalaítos.
Croquetas might be originally from Spain, but they are very much part of the Cuban culture. Ordering a croqueta de jamón (ham) at La España was a way my dad and I bonded before having a MediaNoche or Cuban sandwich. And you need to have a squirt of fresh lime over it… without it, just wasn’t the same.
I even taught several boyfriends to eat a croqueta with lime. Oh, the memories!!
On the Puerto Rican side, bacalaítos have always been my fritura of choice — crispy and greasy, the perfect snack after a day of sun and sand at Balneario de Luquillo or when browsing over the artesanías at Fiestas de San Sebastián.
As a vegetarian following a healthier, more natural lifestyle I don’t see a need to deprive myself completely of my favorite frituras… I just had to tweak them a bit.
Spinach croquetas are easy to make and a great way to introduce spinach to picky eaters – the fried package is a great enabler. And time taught me the true, real flavor in bacalaítos (cod fritters) comes from the seasoning in the batter, not the salted codfish… that’s how BacalaFREEtos came to be – great to make before going out where real bacalaítos might be present, to avoid any temptations, or created as a by-product after battering something else, like eggplants.
Enjoy these frituras… now, the vegetarian way!
Spinach Croquetas Recipe
- 1 cup of frozen spinach, measured frozen, thawed and squeezed dry
- ½ yellow onion, diced small
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- 1 tbs olive oil
- 1 small pat of butter
- 2 tbs spelt flour
- About ¾ to 1 cup of milk
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- About 1 cup of whole-wheat breadcrumbs
- Canola Oil for frying
We will be basically making a thick béchamel to mix with the spinach, breading and then frying.
In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil, butter, onions and garlic. Sautee them until they become softened. Season with salt and pepper.
Remove the pieces of garlic and add the spelt flour and stir all together to form a paste. Move around the saucepan a bit to cook the paste as much as you can to avoid having a raw flour taste afterwards.
After about 1-2 minutes of cooking the onion/flour paste, slowly add the milk while whisking. Whisking will prevent lumps from forming. Continue whisking once in a while until the mixture starts to bubble. It’ll need to bubble to know how thick the sauce will really be. Add more milk if you believe the sauce is too thick, but it needs to be on the thick side to withstand the frying later.
Remove from the heat and add the dry spinach. Season with salt and pepper again. Mix together well to avoid having big lumps of spinach.
Take the mixture out of the sauce pan to help it cool off. You can place in the refrigerator, if you’d like.
After the spinach béchamel has cooled, we can start making the croquetas.
Place the breadcrumbs in a shallow container. Set aside.
In a large skillet, pour about ½ inch of canola oil and allow it to become hot enough for frying.
While the oil heats up, we take about 1 tsp of spinach mixture and roll it in our hands to make a ball.
Roll the ball in the breadcrumbs, making sure to coat it well on all sides
Place breaded balls in the hot oil to fry. It’ll take about 5 minutes to cook on all sides until they’re golden brown.
The croquetas are delicate so the best way to handle them while frying them is using 2 forks. Use the forks to roll them from one side to another to ensure they cook well on all sides and to take them out of the oil.
Make sure the first side has cooked enough and is crispy to withstand being moved. If you move them too soon, they will just break and form a sloppy mess on the frying pan.
Drain the croquetas on paper towels while they cool off a bit.
Madelyn is a lacto-vegetarian living in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She became a vegetarian after practicing Yoga seriously 10+ years ago and over the years she developed an increased appreciation for cooking and developing recipes. Since 2007, she has written KarmaFree Cooking, a vegetarian blog and tweets at @karmafreecookin.