Last fall when the Farmer's Market ended, I was stuck looking through the grocery store produce section for produce that looked interesting. Somewhere between the acorn squash and the sweet potatoes, I found leeks. Leeks are a winter vegetable, so they are freshest in the winter months. The look like a long, thin, giant green onion, with a narrow white bulb that rises into a pale green "stalk" ending in dark green leaves. Actually, the stalk is composed of tightly packed leaves, and the white and light green is the edible part. Leeks are really nutritious, low in calories and tasty. They really don't taste like onions. They are so much milder and sweeter, and when you cook them they turn soft and buttery. So delicious! They are one of my favorite vegetables now. I never even had one until a few months ago. I really was missing out for 38 years!
So, you buy a leek or two. Now, what do you do with it? Wash it thoroughly, for one thing. They grow in the sand, and you have to wash between the leaves to get any loose grit out. First, trim off the dark green top and the roots off the base. Then peel off the very outermost leaf and toss it. Then take a knife and slice the whole leek in half lengthwise, and run the halves under a running faucet, fanning the leaves apart with your fingers to rinse out any dirt. Or, you can chop the leeks and then rinse them in a colander. All of my recipes start with leeks that are halves, washed, and then halved lengthwise again... and then sliced into pieces about 1/2" thick. Here are a couple of my very favorite ways to prepare leeks.
Leeks and Asparagus
This is a really simple recipe that I picked up over at A Veggie Venture. You prepare a medium leek as above and stick it in a pan sprayed with cooking spray. I put them in slightly wet, as the moisture helps them cook. Salt them just a little.
While they are starting to cook on medium heat, prepare some asparagus. Take your stalks (as many as you want to eat) and slice off the tough bottoms. Then cut the asparagus into 1-2" chunks and toss them in with the leeks. Give it all a stir... if it is sticking or browning at all, lower the heat and add a little more cooking spray and/or water. Cover and let this cook until the asparagus is as soft as you like... about 5-10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste. How simple is that? And sooo delicious! This is the recipe that converted me to leeks.
Now this is a yummy one. I am a macaroni and cheese fanatic, and I am always trying to find ways to tame my mac n cheese tooth (like my Butternut Mac n Cheese on this site). These cheesy leeks really fit the bill for me. I make them as a meal, but they could stand as a side dish as well.
Prepare your leeks the same way as above (wash, chop, put them in the Pam-sprayed pan and salt them). Cover and let cook about 5 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Use 2 medium to large leeks for this recipe.
Meanwhile, make your cheese sauce:
Melt 2 tsp butter in a pan. Add 1 T flour and whisk together over medium heat. Slowly... very slowly... add 1 1/4 cups of skim milk. I do mean slowly, and whisking as you add it, so you don't get lumps. When all the milk is added, cook and whisk over medium heat until thickened. Take it off the heat and add 2 oz grated low fat cheese (I love Kraft 2% medium or sharp cheddar) and whisk until melted. Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the cooked leeks. Pour into a pie pan or 9-10" dish (sprayed with Pam). Sprinkle 2 oz of shredded low fat cheese on top, and bake, uncovered, at 425 degrees for 10 minutes or until the cheese is a little browned and the leeks are bubbly.
And the infamous and obligatory leek soup... with a twist!
Curried Leek Soup
(I adapted this recipe from one I found on allrecipes.com)
2 medium leeks, cleaned and sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp butter
1 tsp flour
1 c chicken broth
1/3 c water
1/2 c thin sliced or grated carrots
1 rib of celery, sliced thin
1 tsp chicken bouillon granules
1/4 tsp curry powder
dash of pepper
3/4 c skim milk
Saute the leeks and garlic in a nonstick pan in the butter for a minute. Sprinkle on the flour and stir well. Add everything else BUT the milk, and simmer for 25 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally and adding a bit of water if needed. Cool for a few minutes. Put some or all of the soup in the blender and return it to the pan. (Puree at least half, or just puree it all if you want no chunks). Add the milk and heat through but don't boil.
This makes one HUGE bowl for a complete dinner, or two regular-sized bowls as part of a meal. Delish!!
Enjoy your leeks!