One of winter’s pleasures is leeks. Versatile, tasty, and nutritious they are unfortunately rare in the American diet. Yet despite this fact, they are increasingly available at even the most minimalistic grocery stores. Farmer’s markets are sure to have them this time of year – and they are so easy to grow, your own garden may have some, too.
How to Buy Leeks
Assuming you are buying leeks – which look something like a huge green onion or scallion – look for firm produce with 2 or 3 inches of white. The smaller the leek (and the brighter the leaves), the more tender the veggie.
How to Wash Leeks
Leeks have a way of harboring soil, so just before using them, wash them well. First, cut off the green leaves about an inch above the white part. (These are tough and can be bitter, so most recipes don’t call for them – but don’t throw them away! Instead add them to soups or stews, or save them for the next time you make stock. For any of these uses, its fine to wash the greens, pat them dry, put them in a freezer bag and freeze them for later.)
Now cut off the roots and discard. Slice the leeks in half, lengthwise. Hold the leeks by their green parts and place under running water, fanning the layers of the vegetable until no sign of dirt is present. Pat dry.
How to Cook with Leeks
Being part of the onion family, leeks can be used as a substitute for onions or green onions (scallions), but they have a more mild, oniony flavor. Leeks are traditionally used in soups, including Potato Leek Soup, Vichyssoise Leek and Chicken Soup, Chicken Leek Soup, and the Scottish Cock-a-Leekie soup. Other ideas include Leeks and Scallops and Zander sauteed with cepe mushrooms, leek and truffles. But for a really simple and stunning side dish, try braised leeks:
Prepare 4 leeks. In a large skillet, bring 4 cups of chicken stock to a boil. Add the leeks and cover. Cook over medium low heat until tender, about 15 to 25 minutes. Be sure to turn the leeks over one time. Transfer the leeks to a serving platter.
Reduce the liquid in the pan by boiling until you have about ½ cup. Remove the skillet from the stove and add 2 tablespoons butter, stirring until melted. Season with about 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley, salt, and pepper. Spoon this mixture over the leeks and serve.
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