Prasa (Sephardic Leeks with Tomato)

Leeks are one of the seven symbolic foods blessed and served at a Sephardic Rosh Hashana seder. I also make this dish for Passover every year. In a fascinating example of enduring Sephardic food culture, prasa was introduced to my family by a cousin from Cuba in the early 1960s. When she made the prasa (Spanish for leek), my father said it tasted exactly the same as his mother’s! And like his mother, our cousin had no written recipe. I’ve done my best to re-create the dish over the years, but feel free to use more or less of any ingredient to your taste. Prepare this adaptable dish in advance so the flavors can blend, then serve it hot, cold or at room temperature. Good as part of a mezze (assortment of appetizers) or a side dish on its own or over rice, quinoa or pasta.

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 16-ounce can whole tomatoes or 4–6 over-ripe fresh tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped, reserving juice
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
4 large leeks
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Set a colander or large strainer into a large bowl so there is at least a small space at the bottom. Clean the leeks by cutting off the dark green tops. Using the tender green and white parts, cut them in half lengthwise and then into 1” pieces. Put the pieces into the colander and run cold water over the leeks, separating the pieces and mixing them with your fingers as you fill the bowl. When the bowl is full, pull out the colander, rinse out the bowl which will have dirt settled in the bottom and then put the colander back in the bowl and repeat the filling process. Leave the leeks to soak in the water for 5–10 minutes, mixing them around a few times. Then pull out the colander and rinse the leeks a last time. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan. When just hot, carefully add the tomatoes without any juice, mashing them roughly. Watch out for splattering oil. Stir to blend and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and simmer for another 3 to 5 minutes. Mix in the leeks and juice from the tomatoes. Simmer the mixture, covered, for about 1 hour until the leeks are soft and the flavors have blended. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Stir and simmer 10 to 15 minutes more, covered to preserve the liquid or uncovered to concentrate it. The dish will keep one week refrigerated in a tightly covered container. It also freezes well. Defrost before re-heating and serving.

Option: For a sweet-and-sour dish, eliminate the garlic and add 1 T. brown sugar with the lemon juice.