What’s in the Box? Leeks!

Don’t like onions?  You’ve got to try leeks!  Eek?  No way.  No tears with this delicious veggie.

LEEKS

The Good Stuff

Belonging to the same family of vegetables as the onion, shallots and garlic, the leek is the least studied in this category.  What is known is that this veggie is high in folate, as well as vitamin K and manganese.  Leeks also contain the flavonoid kaempferol which has been shown to protect our blood vessel linings against damage and antioxidant polyphenols which together support cardiovascular health.  The concentration of antioxidant polyphenols in the leek is higher than in carrots, cherry tomatoes and even red bell peppers.

4 Amazing Ways to Prepare (and what to do first)

First, let’s address how to clean and cut leeks.  There are many vegetables that intimidate me because in their whole form, I have no clue what to do with them.  Peel or not peel?  Skin or no skin? Slice thin or thick? And my favorite, which parts do I even use??

Most recipes will call for both the light green and white part of the leek sliced thin.  Leeks are great at hiding dirt and I actually watched a YouTube video years ago to learn how to clean & cut leeks. Here are my cliff notes:

  1. Trim the dark green leaves off the top, leave the bulb attached for now
  2. Make two long vertical cuts on opposite sides of the leek starting a half inch up from the bulb all the way to the top, cutting almost to the center
  3. You should be able to “fan” the leek out
  4. Under running water, fan the leek making sure the water is rinsing between each layer
  5. Peel off the outer one or two layers
  6. Slice very thinly down to the bulb, discard the bulb
  7. You’re ready to cook!

Soup

Leeks are great in many soups.  If you’re still visiting farmer’s markets and your local organic produce stand, a great soup companion to the leek is the potato, so pick some of those up too.  You can learn more about potatoes here. Below is my favorite Potato Leek soup recipe.  It is seriously amazing.  Seriously.  It’s vegan & gluten free.  Yes!

I first saw this soup in the vegan cookbook Isa Does It, by Isa  Chandra Moskowitz…the co-author of Veganomicon, which if you are a frequent reader of the Edible Monster, you will know I reference and use this cookbook often. No surprise that I of course love the Isa Does It cookbook, and she makes vegan SO simple.  You have to check it out, you can find it on Amazon here.

Ingredients

2 TBSP olive oil

1 large leek (about 1 lb., white & light green parts thinly sliced)

1 small yellow onion, finely diced

1 teaspoon of salt, plus a pinch

1/2 cup of cashews, soaked for at least two hours (I use roasted, unsalted cashews)

1 1/2 cups of water

2 lbs. of potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks (I prefer golds or German Butterball varieties)

1 TBSP fresh thyme leaves finely chopped (or approximately 1 TSP of dried thyme)

4 cups of vegetable broth

Several pinches of freshly ground pepper

Method

Preheat a 4-quart pot over medium heat, add the olive oil.  Saute the leeks and onion with a pinch of salt for about 10 minutes, until the leeks are completely softened.

To make the cashew cream drain the cashews and place in a food processor or blender if you have a high end model.  I’ve actually used my Nutri-bullet in a pinch and it worked perfectly for this. Add the water and cashews to your machine and blend until completely smooth which will take anywhere from 1 – 5 minutes.  You may need to scrape down the side with a rubber spatula every now and then to make sure you get everything.  Set aside.

Now that the onion and leeks are soft, add the potatoes, black pepper, remaining salt, thyme and broth.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, lower the heat o simmer.  Cook for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender.

With the soup on low heat, use a potato masher to mash the potatoes in the pot until they are pretty creamy and no chunks remain.  Add the cashew cream, stir and heat through.  Add salt & pepper to taste.

Garnish with a little extra thyme.  I serve this soup with gluten free Schar Ciabatta rolls on the side.  Yummy!

Stew

Stew is going to be served up all winter long!  Especially my obsession, Potato, Leek & Bean Cassoulet.  I first posted the recipe here, my go-to favorite from Veganomicon.  The prep takes some time – preparing the potatoes, leek, garlic, onion and carrots.  I like to try and do this ahead of time, and slicing the leeks in advance does actually bring out their savory, mild flavor.  Once you’ve got your ingredients all set, the cooking is a breeze.  Highly recommend.  This stew is a champion for all of my vegan & gluten free friends.

Sauteed (with more vegetables)

For a hardy side dish, full of flavor and nutrition, you can saute leeks with a variety of vegetables and this is one of my own favorites:

Ingredients

1 medium leek

2 small head of broccoli, trimmed

4 carrots, peeled and cut into slices

2 – 3 cups of kale, removed from stems and roughly chopped

2 – 3 TBSP olive oil (or bacon grease, more on that here)

Salt

Fresh ground pepper

Method

Slice the leek very thin and saute in the olive oil for 2 – 3 minutes or until soft over medium heat.  Add the carrots and continue to saute for 2 – 3 minutes.  The leek should start to brown.  Cover the pan and turn heat to low for 5 – 7 minutes or until carrots are soft.

In the meantime, boil the broccoli for 3 – 4 minutes, drain and set aside.

Add the broccoli and kale to the saute pan and continue to cook until the kale wilts.  Salt & pepper to taste.

As an FYI – I’ve eaten this as a meal and added sweet potato to it.  I baked the sweet potato in the oven for an our at 375 degrees.  I pierced the potato two times, rubbed some olive oil on it and wrapped in foil.  Cooking a sweet potato this way preserves it’s nutrients and the skin literally falls off.  I cut the cooked sweet potato into large cubes, tossed with the veggies and sprinkled some brown sugar on top.  It was lovely!

Risotto

The Minimalist Baker, a blog I frequent, posted this beautiful (vegan & gluten free) risotto.  You could probably substitute real parmesan cheese for the vegan version, however I have note tried that.  Risotto can be tricky to get just right and it might take a couple of tries to master, but when you do, you can’t beat the indulgence of this creamy favorite on a cold day!

Leeks can warm up many dishes, with it’s mild and savory flavor.  I know I’ve used those words several times throughout, but I cannot think of a better way to describe them.  Enjoy!

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