How about that snow on Sunday!!! Seems a bit early to me. I was thrilled to show up to the farm this week and see that there was still plenty of healthy, green produce left. I was even able to pick more cilantro, dill, parsley and sage from the fields. The bounty just keeps coming so don’t put away the garden shears quite yet!
Leeks are one of those cold weather vegetables that are highly underrated. Folks think of Vichyssoise when they think of leeks, a French soup we all love but figure must be too complicated to cook given its fancy name. Beyond that, most of us aren’t quite sure what to do with this vegetable. However the fact is leeks can be as basic to cooking as your typical onion, shallot, scallion or garlic (after all, they all come from the same allium family). If you like raw onions in your salad or on your burger, try raw leeks. If you love onion rings, try frying leeks. Instead of sweating onions for your next stew or soup, substitute leeks. What you will find will surprise and delight you. While in the same family as onions or garlic, leeks are milder and sweeter. The have the added divine quality of becoming incredibly silky when cooked down with plenty of fat or liquid, which is why Vichyssoise and “melted” leeks are such incredible delicacies and why soups made with leeks seem like they are made with tons of butter and cream even when they aren’t.
When I first started looking into the nutritional properties of alliums like onions and garlic, I was completely shocked to find out how nutritionally dense these most humble of vegetables really are. Leeks are no exception. In addition to containing pretty high levels of many key vitamins and minerals like A, C, K, folate, copper, manganese and iron, they are also very high in key antioxidant flavonoids as well as sulfur containing nutrients, all of which contribute to detoxification and protection from illnesses like cancer and heart disease. Raphael Kellman, M.D., author of the Microbiome Diet, notes that leeks (as well as onion and garlic) are important for a healthy microbiome (the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut that supports a tremendous amount of vital bodily functions). In fact, 3-10% of the weight of leeks is comprised of inulin, a prebiotic which serves the very important role of feeding the good bacteria in our gut. If you are currently taking a probiotic to heal or support your gut, it is very important to also ingest prebiotics in order for the probiotic you take to feed and thrive.
As mentioned above, leeks can be used in food preparation like any other allium. They are great simply sautéed or even caramelized. They add an incredible silky element to pureed soups but are also good in chunky soups and stews. They are also wonderful in casseroles. “Melted leeks” or leeks that have been cooked until super soft in fat and liquid, are incredibly good on pizza (ever try the Little City pizza at Little City Pizzeria in Simsbury? Absolutely divine). Here are a number of other creative leek ideas culled from the Internet:
White Cheddar and Leek Dip (click here)
Leek and Mushroom Bread Pudding (click here)
Leek and Potato Cakes (click here)
Roasted Radishes and Leeks with Thyme (click here)
Seared Scallops with Brandied Leeks and Mushrooms (click here)
Salmon Stuffed with Leeks (click here)
Butternut Squash and Leek Lasagna (click here)
Leek and Lemon Linguine (click here)
Choose leeks that are straight with nice white bulb ends and fresh, bright green leaf ends. Avoid soft or brown leeks. Because leeks can get tough at the leaf end it is customary to cut off the leaf at the point where the leek goes from light green to dark green. Thus, only the white and light green parts are used. Leeks often harbor sand in between their layers so it is important to clean them thoroughly. If you are ultimately using sliced or chop leeks in your dish, cut the the leeks first and then swish them in a bowl of cold water to remove dirt. If you want to keep the leek fairly intact, cut the leek in half lengthwise and run under cold water, attempting to rinse between the layers while keeping the leek pieces intact.
I could eat these mustard braised leeks all day long. They are especially good served alongside pork or chicken.
Mustard Braised Leeks
– 2 slices uncured smoked bacon, chopped (optional)
– 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
– about 10-12 ounces leeks, light green and white part only, halved lengthwise and then cut crosswise into 2″ pieces
– 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
– 1/2 cup white wine
– 1/2 – 3/4 cup home-made or purchased chicken or veggie broth
– 1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
– 1 tablespoon coconut milk or dairy cream
Wash leeks well, getting between the layers as best as possible while keeping the pieces intact. Remove any tough outer layers of leek pieces (they won’t get very tender).
In a heavy bottomed braising pot, cook bacon (if using) over medium heat until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. Discard bacon fat. Return pan to heat and turn up to medium high heat. Melt butter and heat until bubbly. Add leeks in a single layer as best as possible and allow to cook undisturbed for about 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned. Carefully turn leeks and brown lightly on the opposite side. Add wine and using a wooden spoon, carefully scrap up browned bits. Bring wine to a boil and cook for about 3-4 minutes or until reduced by about one half. Add 1/2 cup broth and mustard and stir to mix well. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, then cover pot and allow leeks to cook for 20-30 minutes or until very tender. Check occasionally and if liquid has boiled off, add more broth, a few tablespoons at a time, to maintain moisture. Once the leeks are tender, remove pot lid and let a good portion of remaining liquid cook off. Stir in coconut milk/cream and bacon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve.