Don't Forget About Leeks


This humble member of the onion family is one of its culinary stars!

By FamilyTime

 

Leeks are plentiful in the markets late into the fall and winter. Don’t overlook them. Their versatility makes them one of the favorites of the onion family.

Leeks can be braised, roasted, grilled, sautéed, or steamed. Most people know them for their role in vichyssoise, the classic French potato-leek soup, but their mild, sweet flavor enhances far more dishes.

Choosing Leeks
Leeks look like giant scallions with flat green leaves and white bases. Choose leeks with green, unblemished leaves and healthy looking white parts. Smaller leeks are preferable; the large ones are still good, but the small ones tend to be more tender and easier to work with.

Check that the roots are pliable and light colored. Avoid any that are darkened or wrinkled. Because so much of the onion will be trimmed away, buy at least 10 ounces of leeks for every serving.

Leeks keep in the refrigerator for four or five days in a perforated plastic bag.

Preparing Leeks
Leeks need to be washed thoroughly. When they grow, only the green leaves protrude above the surface of the garden, so the white bases, which are underground, tend to have dirt lodged between their layers.

Slice off the root end and the green leaves. If you are cleaning more than one or two leeks, expect a lot of refuse for the compost!

Leave the leeks in tact or slice them vertically. Run them under cool water, using your fingers to gently separate the layers to remove any grit. Some cooks like to soak leeks for about 15 minutes in cold water.

Either way, rinse the leeks well and drain them before cooking.

In most instances, just the white parts are used. If the leeks are very young, the very bottom sections of the green may be eaten, as well.

Once trimmed and cleaned, leeks can be cooked whole, sliced lengthwise, or cut into slices (similar to a scallion).

Cooking Leeks
Leeks are native to the Mediterranean region of Europe and as such are integral to the cooking of the South of France. They taste mildly of both onions and garlic and it’s no surprise French cooks have long treasured them.

Leeks marry harmoniously with other ingredients indigenous to the area such as fennel, garlic, dill, potatoes, and lemons. They are lovely in preparations calling for cream, butter, and cheese.

Roast leeks in a low oven for 45 minutes to an hour. Cook them with stock, butter, salt and pepper – nothing more unless you want to add a little garlic or nutmeg.

Braise leeks in chicken stock with a little garlic, celery, and olive oil. Serve them with an herb-filled vinaigrette.

Grill leeks, brushed with olive oil, over a moderately hot fire. They only take about 10 minutes. Grilled leeks are delicious with vinaigrettes flavored with herbs or mustard, or both.

Think of leeks to flavor fish, veal, lamb, and chicken dishes. Sauté them in olive oil and butter to soften and then build on their base, as you would sautéed white onions or scallions. They provide milder, subtler flavor.

Leeks are in season now – for vegetable gardeners they are often the final harvest because they can sustain mild frosts. Enjoy them this holiday season for both grand meals and simple ones.