Spinach croquetas (vegetarian and lactose free)

Felicity Cloake is probably my favourite food columnist, and one of the food writers I’m currently enjoying most overall. Gastro-bookworm synthesist probably isn’t a broad demographic, but I’m in it and she hits it square on. Her ham croquetas recipe is no exception, and making it a couple of times taught me a worrying lesson: croquetas are easy enough to make that you can have them as snack/comfort food.

Spinach croquetas frying

After all, a white sauce just doesn’t take that long, and you can cool it pretty fast by sticking the pan in a cold water bath. So yeah, you can bring croquetas in well under a hour and most of that will be waiting. This is bad – now I basically want them all the time.

It’s doubly bad if you’re, say, spending a month vegetarian out of perverse curiosity and cooking dinner for your lactose-intolerant boyfriend. Given croquetas are mostly milk and the body of the flavour is ham, that probably doesn’t fly. But I gave it a go anyway.

This is basically my previous croquetas recipe with spinach instead of ham, and a bunch of lactose-free ingredient substitutions. The arrival of Arla’s Lactofree range has helped me avoid the more irritating compromises, so I’ve not had to try this with soy milk or rice milk. I have my doubts about how well that would go. However, this isn’t suitable for full-on dairy allergies. Lactofree don’t certify their product for that. The lactose is denatured and filtered out, I think (EDIT: It isn’t, see comments), but traces may remain. Essentially, your gastric-distress mileage may vary.

I’ve put Parmesan on the list. I didn’t use it, and you don’t have to. It often isn’t strictly vegetarian, and it certainly isn’t dairy-free. But if I were just making this for me I’d grate in a load as it really adds umami.

Ingredients:

  • Lactofree milk, or other sensible substitution
  • Fat that isn’t butter but still tastes of something – I use Pure’s soya spread
  • Flour
  • Garlic
  • A small onion
  • Spinach
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Optional Parmesan

Instructions:

Chop the onion and garlic finely, and fry them gently in the fat. Let them soften and colour slightly, but slowly – they’re there to add body and richness. You could take the onion to the edge of caramelisation if you wanted. When you’re happy, stir in the flour, let it cook through and work in the milk to make up a white sauce. I’m assuming you know how to do this, because I can’t be bothered typing it out, and it’s so well-documented that my sloppy under-explanation would add little.

Spinach croquetas with roasted cauliflower
Spinach croquetas with roasted veg

Turn it into sauce, but keep it real thick. If you’re using Parmesan, add it to the sauce as it cooks out.

Let the sauce cool. If you’re tight for time, do this by sitting the pan in a bowl of cold water.

Wilt the spinach, press out as much liquid as you can, and chop it a little. Stir it through the cooled sauce. Hopefully the mix should be stodgy, semi-solid, and deeply visually unappealing in a congealed porridge kind of a way – all the easier to work with. Season as needed, and shape.

Take a generous spoonful of the sauce, the colder the better, and roll it in your hands to make a rough cylinder. This will be a little sticky and gross. Roll the croquetas in breadcrumbs to ensure a good coating, and put to one side until you’re ready to fry. It should stick without an egg wash, but if not, that’s how you fix it. Take care not to leave them too long. You may need to fry them in batches, rolling and breadcrumbing as you go. This is because the warmer the sauce gets, the more it melts. So they become oozy and hard to work with over time. The crispy, fried breadcrumbs are all that hold these together – it’s just sauce, after all.

Fry the croquetas carefully on a medium heat. Deep-frying is traditional, but shallow is perfectly possible, you just need to turn them carefully periodically to ensure all the breadcumbs fry off. Oh, and they go a bit square.

Serve them as soon as they’re done. If you leave them they tend to ooze and collapse.

We had ours with roasted cauliflower and courgettes (with plenty of rosemary and paprika). They’d also make a good starter, or just on their own as a junky lunch. The richness and texture as you cut or bite into them is part of what makes croquetas splendid, and these have plenty of that. The spinach lends a fun colour, but the flavour is mild and they do lack the savoury punch of their ham-based brethren.

To put that back without recourse to pig, think umami. Parmesan is an obvious possibility, as is frying in some finely-diced mushroom at the start. Tiny florets of roasted or fried broccoli is something I’d like to experiment with instead of spinach. But what would really kick ass is stirring through little bits of crumbled blue cheese. That’s a bust for the non-dairy crowd, but it would be delicious.

Any other ideas?

(all image credits in this post go to Kit, incidentally)

6 thoughts on “Spinach croquetas (vegetarian and lactose free)”

    1. Let me know how it goes if you do. Though it’s probably best to cross reference with some other recipes first, as I’m pretty vague with stuff here.

  1. I’d imagine they’re breaking the lactose down with lactase into galactose and whatever the other product of lactase is, some other sugar. They probably don’t filter it out since the products are too small, and should be harmless anyway. That’s not strictly denaturing in the sense I’d use the term, which is basically the unfolding of proteins, although food scientists might use the term differently.

    1. Thanks for the clarification. I should probably have looked that up before posting, but hey, I was between the first and second morning espressos. It’s a fragile time.

      Would the breakdown products explain the faint sweetness in the lactofree stuff, or am I maybe imagining it?

      Also, galactose sounds like it should be a giant super villain in Friesian-print shorts.

    1. Thanks! They’re a bit prone to falling apart or miss-shaping if you’re not careful when turning them, but they’re pretty tasty.

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