Leeks are lovely when cooked properly

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 9, 2010

The French love leeks and give them the respect they deserve. It is amazing how many grocery check-out people do not know the name of leeks, and only think you have a really big onion! Leeks are coming into the markets right now, and they are cheap, but this will not be so in a few months. (Unfortunately, leeks in my garden have not been so good.)

Leeks resemble onion and scallions, but tend to give a more herbal or “green” flavor to recipes. Leeks need to be cooked, and are usually used in soups and stews, but can stand alone when braised or in a gratin. Leeks can be treated badly when cooked to death and their green color can be turned to a dull army-drab gray-green. Leeks tend to need more fiddling with before cooking. They hang on to the sand they grow in with tenacity. You eat only the stalk’s white section. Trim away the roots and green portions.

To thoroughly wash leeks, make a slit down its length to the center, then flush it clean under cold running water. If you are sautéing them, dry the leeks by rolling the stalks up in paper towels and gently squeezing out excess moisture. Doing something as easy as boiling together sliced leeks and red skin potatoes in broth gives you the beginning of French leek and potato soup.

I do leek and potato soup a lot during the colder months. It is easy and so tasty. Try this while leeks are at their cheapest.

Potato Leek Soup

Serves 4-5

3 large leeks, cut lengthwise, separate, clean. Use only the white and pale parts, chop.

2 tbsp. butter

2 cups water

2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth for vegetarian option)

2 lbs potatoes, peeled, diced into ½ inch pieces


¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme

Tabasco sauce or other red chili sauce

Salt and pepper

Cook the leeks in butter with salt and pepper in a medium-sized saucepan. Cover pan, cook on low for 10 minutes. Check often. Do not brown leeks! Browning will give a burnt taste.

Add water, broth and potatoes. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Scoop about half of the soup mixture into a blender, puree and return to pan. Add marjoram, parsley and thyme. Add a few dashes of chili sauce to taste. Add some freshly ground pepper, 1-2 teaspoons of salt to taste.

The following recipe is from The Splendid Table by Lynn Rossetto Kasper’s Weekend Kitchen. I did the recipe the other evening and it is just amazing how good leeks are, just cooked with some simple ingredients.

Cool and Lush Summer Leeks with Tarragon

Serves 4

Good tasting extra-virgin olive oil

12 small leeks, or 6 larger ones, trimmed of roots, greens, washed and dried

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon sugar

1 clove garlic, thinly sliced (My garlic is from the garden this year.)

½ teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 can low sodium chicken or vegetable broth (1-1 ¼ cups)

Water as needed

1 tightly-packed tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, chopped (You don’t need much to give a tarragon taste and not much was all I had, but I did get it out of the garden. Keeping tarragon alive in this climate is a chore. Maybe I have found the right spot under a tree with only early morning sun.)

1 tightly-packed tablespoon fresh chives, chopped (Now, chives I have.)

1 large lemon, cut in 8 wedges

Film the bottom of a 12-inch straight-sided sauté pan with olive oil; heat oil over medium-high. Add leeks in a single layer. Sprinkle them with a little salt, a generous grinding of pepper and the sugar. Sear until light golden on all sides.

Add the garlic, lemon zest, broth and enough water to come half way up the side of the leeks. Cover and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until leeks are tender when pierced with a knife. Using two spatulas, gently lift leeks to a serving platter.

Make a “dressing” by boiling down the pan liquid until almost syrupy. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Pour over the leeks. Leeks can marinate at room temperature for several hours. Serve them cool (not cold) or at room temperature, sprinkled with the tarragon and chives and fresh lemon wedges. The final seasoning is a squeeze of fresh lemon over the stalks.

Patricia Wells has a really great leek recipe in her book, Vegetable Harvest. The leeks for this dish should be the smallest and freshest leeks you can find. Hard to do I know in the grocery store, but if we were in France this would be possible!

Steamed Leeks in Mustard and Caper Vinaigrette

The Vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon sherry-wine vinegar

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

2 teaspoons imported French mustard

1 tablespoon capers in vinegar, drained

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

8 small fresh leeks (about 1 pound), white portion only, trimmed and rinsed

½ cup finely minced fresh chives or flat-leafed parsley

Prepare the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and salt and whisk to dissolve the salt. Add the mustard, capers, and oil and whisk to blend. Taste for seasoning and set aside.

Bring 1 quart water to a simmer in the bottom of a steamer. Place the leeks on the steaming rack. Place the rack over the simmering water, cover, and steam until the leeks are soft and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Drain the leeks and transfer to a platter. Immediately cover with the vinaigrette while the leeks are warm, so they soak up the sauce. Sprinkle with chives or parsley and serve.