Thursday, March 31, 2016

Leeks: What Are They and How Do I Cook Them?

Leeks, which are part of the onion and garlic family, look like scallions on steroids.  They have a mild taste and a much bigger price tag than onions.  To make their food seem more exotic, some recipe-writers call for leeks when they could just as easily use onions.  That’s a waste of money as well as time because this vegetable is much harder to clean.  In fact, cleaning leeks can be more of a challenge than cooking them.

Leeks vary greatly in diameter—as little as 3/4-inch to 2 inches--and are often sold in bundles of two or three.  Most of the leek is edible, although the dark green part is fibrous and strong tasting.  I usually cut much of it off.

The white portion is so dense that dirt rarely gets between the layers. But once you get to the light and dark green parts, you’ve got to wash each surface carefully.  No one wants a mouthful of grit. 

Here are several ways to clean leeks:

1) Wash the white part, which is the cleanest part.  Trim 1/2-inch of the white root end.  If you need 1/2-inch slices, cut into the white part now. When the color starts to change to light green, separate the layers and rinse them thoroughly.

2) Leave the root end attached (to hold the layers in place) and cut the entire leek in half lengthwise.  Rinse both halves thoroughly, separating the layers with your fingers.  Dirt and sand tend to congregate in the green areas.  Then trim the bottom few inches of the dark green part as well as 1/2-inch of the white root end.

3) This third method works only if you need thin slices of leek: Trim the bottom few inches of the dark green part as well as 1/2-inch of the white root end.  Then slice the unwashed leek into thin slices and add the slices to a pot at least half full of cold water.  Stir them around so that they shed all dirt and sand and then carefully scoop them out with a strainer, leaving the dirt behind.

Why do I go to all this trouble?  I’m very fond of Leek Curry, Leeks Vinaigrette and Leek and Potato Soup.

Leek Curry
Leek Curry – serves 4-6 as a vegetable or 3 as a main dish over rice 
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil 
2 whole cloves 
1 bay leaf 
1 teaspoon chili powder 
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander 
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
2 large leeks, including most of the dark green parts, cut into 1/2-inch slices (see above for cleaning tips) 
1 large onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices 
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce 
Several handfuls washed small spinach leaves (optional) 
Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat.  Add the cloves, bay leaf chili powder, coriander, cumin, ginger, black pepper and cinnamon and cook for 30 seconds.  
Add the leeks, onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften. 
Add the tomato sauce and bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.  Add the spinach leaves, if using, stir to incorporate, and cook for 1 minute.  Discard the bay leaf and cloves before serving.  Serve hot or cold.
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