Sep 16, 2014

The Noble LEEK

Organic leeks from Pu'u O Hoku Ranch
purchased at Moloka'i Farmer's Market
I'm always on the lookout for fresh leek because they make a nice change from the regular old onion. The leek is the noble member of the onion family, and looks like a spring onion on steroids. However the flavor of the leek is much more refined, subtle, and sweeter than the standard onion. They are prized by cooks as a flavoring for dishes of all types. 

Though the leek was prized by Egyptian pharaohs, Roman emperors and European kings, it seems its sweet, subtle flavor has been upstaged in recent years by onions and garlic, its more assertive cousins.

In its raw state, the vegetable is crunchy and firm. The edible portions of the leek are the white base of the leaves (above the roots and stem base). The bottom white portion does not grow white naturally. Earth is heaped up around them to keep the sunlight off, which is called "blanching". This makes the bottoms of the stems taste sweeter. Leeks are usually sold in bunches of 2 to 4. The smaller the leek the better; anything wider than 1 1/2 inches may be quite tough.

To prepare a leek, cut the roots off at the bottom. Then cut off the leafy top down to where it starts to turn from dark green to lighter green. After chopping, Leeks need to be washed really well because dirt gets in between the layers. Chop the Leeks and wash in a large bowl or sink of cold water. The Leeks will float to the top; the sand and grit will sink to the bottom. Soak them for 10 or 15 minutes to loosen dirt.

Leeks are typically chopped into thin slices. The slices have a tendency to fall apart, due to the layered structure of the leek. The different ways of preparing the vegetable are: Boiled, which turns it soft and mild in taste. Fried, which leaves it crunchier and preserves the taste. Raw, which can be used in salads, doing especially well when they are the prime ingredient.

One of the most popular uses is for adding flavor to stock. The dark green portion is usually discarded because it has a tough texture, but it can be sauteed or added to stock. A few leaves are sometimes tied with twine and other herbs to form a bouquet garni. Leeks are the king of soup onions and are regarded in France as the asparagus of the poor.

Like all onion family crops, leeks are good for you, too. They are an excellent source of vitamin A, beta carotene, lutein, and folate. 

Wild leeks, also called ramps, are of a different variety. They are much smaller, more akin to small scallions or young shallots. Unlike the leek, they have a very strong aroma and flavor.

Leek Recipes:

Baked Eggs with Leeks and Spinach
This is a wonderful way to enjoy leeks and spinach for breakfast.

2/3 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
1 medium garlic clove, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large leek, chopped (white and pale-green parts only, about 1 cup)
4 scallions, chopped (white and pale-green parts only)
1 pound fresh spinach
1 teaspoon juice from 1 lemon
8 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Set aside.

Adjust oven to center rack and preheat oven to 300°F. In a 12-inch oven proof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat until the foam subsides. Lower the heat to low, then add the leek and scallion and cook until completely soft and golden, about 10 minutes.

Add as much spinach as will fit in the skillet with the lemon juice, along with a pinch of salt. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently and adding more spinach a handful at a time as it wilts until it is just wilted, 4 to 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt or more lemon juice as needed.

Now drain the liquid from the spinach. Using tongs, divide spinach into 4 nests in the same 12-inch skillet, leave any excess liquid from spinach behind. Make 2 indentations in each spinach nest and crack one egg into each indentation, taking care to keep the yolks intact. Sprinkle each egg with a pinch of salt, then transfer to the oven and cook until the whites are just set, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the last tablespoon of butter in a small pot over medium-low heat. Add the chili powder and continue cooking until the butter just begins to brown. Add the oregano and cook the sauce for 30 seconds longer, then remove from the heat.

Serve the baked eggs with the yogurt mixture, and top with the spiced butter/oregano sauce. Makes 4 servings.

Leek Salad with Tomato-mustard Vinaigrette
Tomatoes and leeks from Moloka'i farmers market
This is a wonderful recipe that my wife makes for me whenever we find leek in the market.

4 medium sized leeks (about 1 1/4 pounds), washed, white and tender green parts cut into 2-inch lengths
4 ripe roma tomatoes, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a saute pan bring 2 inches of water to a boil. Add the leeks, bring back to a boil and simmer gently, covered, for 5 or 6 minutes, or until the leeks are tender.

Drain, cool, then gently squeeze the leeks to extract most of the remaining liquid.

Arrange the pieces in a serving dish combining the white and green parts of the leeks.

Mix together the tomato, oil, vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and spoon the mixture over the leeks. Serve lukewarm or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.

Onaga & Leek Stew
Onaga is the beautiful ruby snapper found in Hawaii waters, however you can use Ehu or regular red snapper, sea bass, or similar firm white meat fish for this recipe.

1, 3 pound onaga (Hawaiian ruby snapper), cleaned, gutted and scaled, head removed (optional)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
juice of 3 lemons
2/3 cup olive oil
2 1/2 pounds leeks, white and tender green parts cut into 2-inch lengths
2 cups water
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Place the cleaned fish on a platter and sprinkle with salt, pepper and one third of the lemon juice. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Heat 1/2 cup of the olive oil in a large, wide pot and place the leeks in the pot. Cover and steam in the oil over low heat, turning them occasionally until lightly caramelized, about 25 minutes.

Place the fish over the leeks, add the water, cover and simmer over low heat until the fish is fork-tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Make the egg-lemon sauce: Separate the egg yolks and whites. Beat the whites vigorously until foamy and nearly stiff. Beat the egg yolks with the remaining lemon juice and then whisk into the whites. Add a ladleful of the pot juices to the egg mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking all the while. Pour the sauce into the pot and tilt the pot to distribute it evenly. Pour in the remaining olive oil and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Rustic Potato Leek Soup
Rustic Potato Leek Soup
Click on photo to enlarge
I have to admit that this is one of my favorite soups of all time. Part of it is that I happen to love potatoes, but when you combine potatoes with leeks, onion, garlic and cream, how can you go wrong. Normally this soup is blended until smooth, but I prefer my "rustic" version with small slices of potato that have the skins left on. The Germans and Portuguese would have liked it this way. They brought the potato to Hawaii many years ago. This is a simple, straightforward soup, and is a great first course when guests stop by unexpectedly, or to enjoy by yourself on a cold day.

3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, cut in half, then thinly sliced, about 1 cup
3 small leeks, white and tender green parts split open, washed to remove any grit, then thinly sliced
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large russet potatoes, washed, thinly sliced with the peeling left on
1 bay leaf
4 cups low sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth (or enough to barely cover the potatoes)
2 cups half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon mace
salt and black pepper to taste
fresh chives for garnish, chopped

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat, with olive oil. Add onions, leeks, garlic and salt. Cook, stirring, until onions are limp and just slightly brown for about 10 minutes. Add sliced potatoes and bay leaf to the pot with chicken broth to cover, stir. Continue cooking over medium low heat, stirring often for about 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Break up potatoes with a wooden spoon, but don't mash. Add half-and-half, and mace. Stir and taste for seasoning. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Remove bay leaf. Serve and garnish bowl with snipped fresh chives. Other garnishes might include, croutons, sour cream, crumbled bacon, grated cheddar cheese, or fresh dill. Serve with hot crusty bread. Makes 4-6 servings.

Baked Leeks with Red Potatoes
This is a simple, but beautiful side dish to serve with roast chicken, or pork.

2/3 pound large new red potatoes with skins, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 cups tender white part of leeks (split, cleaned, outer leaves discarded, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Toss the potatoes with the leeks, oil and salt. Transfer to a shallow baking dish (at least 1 quart, so that vegetables are no more than 1 inch deep). Bake about 35 minutes, or until tender, stir once. Let stand for a few minutes. Serves 4 as a side dish.

Summer Sweet Corn with Leek
I always look forward to sweet corn in the summer. The Lions Club always sells it by the bag, and my wife and I are usually first in line. Sweet corn is amazing all by itself, but the addition of leek makes it even better.

2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 4 corn cobs)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 leek, white & green parts chopped small
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped (from Kumu Farms)
juice of half a lemon
salt to taste

Easy method to shave corn off cob: just stand it upright in a large bowl and run your knife as close to the cob as you can get. The kernels will just come right off.

Heat canola oil under medium-high heat in a frying pan. Add in cumin seeds. When the seeds start to brown, turn the heat to medium and add in the chopped leeks. Cook the leaks for about 3-5 minutes, until they are cooked down. Mix in the black pepper.

At this point, add in the corn kernels and salt to taste. Fry the corn for a few minutes (doesn’t take long to cook). Turn the heat off. Squeeze lemon and mix in the chopped basil. Add salt to taste. Makes 4 servings.

Bacon & Cheese Leek Quiche
An easy main course leek recipe with a delicious polenta crust.

Ingredients for the Polenta Crust:
1 3/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup coarsely ground cornmeal
1 tablespoon butter

Ingredients for the quiche Filling:
2-3 slices thickly cut bacon
3 large Roma tomatoes, cut in half
1 large leek, sliced, washed and drained
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup half and half
3 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flavorful cheese, such as Swiss or gouda, grated

To roast the tomatoes: 
Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Place the tomatoes cut side down on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Lay the bacon next to the tomatoes. Roast the tomatoes and bacon for 17-20 minutes, or until the skins of the tomatoes have collapsed and are just barely starting to brown and the bacon is crispy. Let sit until cool enough to handle and then chop the onions and break the bacon up into small pieces. Set aside.

To make the polenta crust: 
In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Add the cornmeal in a gradual stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, whisking frequently, for about 15-20 minutes until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan into a firm, sticky mass.

Grease a 10-inch pie pan and press the polenta mixture into it and up the sides.

In a preheated oven at 400˚F, bake the polenta crust for 15-20 minutes until slightly crispy on the edges.

For the quiche filling:
Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat, add the leek and saute until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Combine the half and half, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth.

Place the leek, chopped roasted tomatoes, and bacon into the polenta crust. Pour the half and half/egg mixture over it and then sprinkle the cheese over it.

Preheat the oven to 325˚F and bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown on top and the middle of the quiche is firm. Makes 4-6 servings.

A Festive Frittata with 
Squash Blossoms and Leeks
During the early summer months, I always look for the beautiful squash blossoms found at our Moloka'i farmer's market. This festive frittata is a beautiful way to show off these flowers in a delicious way.

2 tablespoons butter
9 eggs
3 tablespoons Milk
1 leek (or 2 Green Onions) cleaned & chopped
2 yellow squash, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1/3 cup of Kraft Italian five cheese blend (or use a blend of provolone, mozzarella and parmesan)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
9 squash blossoms

To prepare the squash blossoms, remove the stems and outer green spiky leaves. Don’t forget to remove the tough stamen inside the flower.

Chop the yellow squash into small pieces, cut it in half length-wise, and then in half again and then cut into pieces. Chop the leek or onions, and garlic. 

In a large bowl add the eggs, milk and cheese and whisk together. In a oven safe pan, like an iron skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Sauté the leek (or onions) until translucent. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then add the squash and cook for 2-3 minutes. Now add your garlic, cook for a couple minutes more. Stir the ingredients often to avoid sticking to the pan. 

Pour the egg mixture into the pan, and stir to evenly distribute the ingredients. Now lay your squash blossoms on top, in a circle with the part on the outside like a flower wheel. Let it cook until it looks about half set, so the bottom looks like an omelet but the top is still watery. Put it in a 400˚F oven for 10-15 minutes and bake until golden and puffed. Makes 4 servings.

Chinese Leek Flatbread
2 1/2 cups AP flour
1 cup warm water
toasted sesame oil
Kosher salt
2 medium sized leeks (about 3/4 pounds), washed, white and tender green parts finely chopped

cooking spray
rolling pin
large metal baking sheet
one 10-inch heavy skillet or sauté pan
kitchen scissors

Mix 2 1/2 cups flour with 1 cup water until it forms a smooth dough. Knead by doubling the dough over and pressing it down repeatedly, until the dough is even more smooth and very elastic. Coat this ball of dough lightly in sesame oil and put it back in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and let the dough rest for about 30 minutes.

Cut the dough into 4 equal parts. Lightly oil the back of a large metal baking sheet. Roll out one part of the dough on the back of the baking sheet. Roll until it is a thin rectangle at least 12 x 9 inches.

Finely chop the leeks and have them ready, along with a small bowl of kosher salt.

Lightly brush the top of the dough with oil, then sprinkle it evenly with chopped leek and kosher salt. Starting from the long end, roll the dough up tightly, creating one long snake of rolled-up dough. Cut the dough snake in two equal parts. Take one of these halves and coil into a round dough bundle. Roll out the coiled dough bundle again into a flat, smooth, round pancake.

Heat a 10-inch heavy skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat, and oil it with a drizzle of canola of vegetable oil. When the oil shimmers, pick up the pancake dough and lay it gently in the pan. It should sizzle, but not burn. Cook for 2 minutes on one side.

Flip the pancake over with a spatula and cook for an additional 2 minutes on the other side, or until golden brown.

Cut the pancake into wedges with a pair of kitchen scissors, and serve immediately with soy sauce or another dipping sauce.

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