Spotlight Ingredient: Leeks

By far the most underestimated of all winter vegetables is the leek. They usually get lost in the respectable, yet predictable Vichyssoise, but this cousin of the onion is capable of so much more.

From Humble Beginnings to Show Stoppers

Once dubbed “Poor-man’s Asparagus”, the leek needs only some slow braising or gentle grilling to bring out its sweet yet complex flavor. The leek should not be considered merely an add-in, because it can stand up very well on its own in a variety of side dishes.
I once served a simple roasted baby leek gratin as a side dish at Thanksgiving and it nearly stole the show!

The subtle onion flavor of the leek lends itself well to pairing with fish and seafood, and if you aren’t convinced, try my Leek-Stuffed Salmon Fillet (recipe at the bottom of the post). Serve it warm or cold with a sprinkling of chopped fresh dill and you’ve got a dish worthy of a holiday buffet.


Now that prices for imported vegetables are sky high, not to mention out of season, why not branch out and try a few recipes with leeks during these cold winter months?
It’s time the leek went from ignored to explored.

Getting Started

Buying

Look for leeks with bright green leaves, and a firm, unblemished, long white stalk. Small and large leeks are both sublime, the only difference is the cooking time.

Storing

Like most vegetables, it is best to buy leeks only as needed; however, if you need to store them for a few days, keep them in the crisper drawer of the fridge.

Cleaning

Leeks can be quite sandy, so careful washing is important. Here’s how to properly clean a whole leek.

  • Start by removing the outer layer of white (unless it is very fresh or from your own garden).
  • Trim the base with a sharp paring knife to remove all the roots.
  • Make an incision in the middle of the white stalk and cut toward the green tips, severing the leek in two, but with the bottom still intact.
  • Wash well under cold running water, pulling the leaves apart to rinse well between them.
  • Drain, green tips down, in a colander for a few minutes.

If the recipe calls for chopped leeks, it is best to chop them and then wash under cold running water. Allow to drain well before using.

Recipes

Roasting or braising brings out the best flavors in leeks and simple grilling is a great option as well. Here are a few of my favorite recipes featuring the leek.

Baked Leeks with Cheese & Yogurt Topping

Choose tender young leeks for this recipe
Serves four

  • 8 small leeks
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 150g fresh goat’s cheese
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F and butter a shallow baking dish.

Trim the leeks, cut a slit from top to bottom and rinse well under cold water.

Place the leeks in a saucepan of water, bring to a boil and simmer gently until just tender. Remove and drain well using a slotted spoon. Arrange in the prepared dish.

Beat egg with the goat cheese, yogurt and ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and season well with salt and pepper.

Pour the cheese and yogurt mixture over the leeks. Mix breadcrumbs and remaining Parmesan cheese together and sprinkle over the sauce. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until the top is crisp and golden brown.

Baked Salmon Stuffed with Leeks

We usually enjoy this with a side of couscous and steamed sugar snap peas.
Serves 4

    • 1 whole salmon fillet, about 1 1/2 pounds
    • 2 medium leeks
    • 1 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 tablespoons butter
    • Salt & pepper
    • 1 lemon, zested & juiced
    • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
    • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 clove garlic

Garnish

  • Bunch of fresh dill
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • Pine nuts, toasted (optional)

Roughly chop leeks in ¼ inch rounds. Wash according to cleaning instructions above and drain well.

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, melt butter and oil together. Add leeks and sauté gently until very soft, about 20 minutes. Stir often, being careful not to let them brown. Season with salt. When they are cooked, remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm.

In the meantime, prepare the salmon. Place whole fillet, skin-side down on a large cutting board. With a sharp knife, cut a generous slit on the side of the fillet, deep into the center, but not all the way through—much like you would a sub sandwich.

Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place salmon on the parchment and fold back the top layer of fish.

Preheat over to 350°F.

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, lemon zest, soy sauce, and olive oil. With a microplane, grate the clove of garlic into the bowl and mix well. Spoon marinade all over the fillet of salmon, reserving a bit for the top.

Spread leek mixture evenly over the bottom layer of salmon and fold the top layer back down. Spread the remaining marinade on the top of the salmon.

Bake for about 15-18 minutes until salmon is firm, but still moist.
Using two sturdy spatulas, transfer stuffed salmon to a serving platter and garnish with chopped dill, toasted pine nuts and lemon slices if desired.

More Leek Recipes

Do you usually bypass the noble leek at the market, or do you toss a few bundles in your basket? Any favorite recipes?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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