Friday, November 2, 2007

Yummy Leeks! (Did I mention the Mustard?)

Growing up in Belize, leeks were an exotic vegetable that conjured up images of verdant English fields or European vegetable gardens. You pretty much never found them in local markets, so when my mother made her favorite potato leek chowder, it was always with regular old onions.

It wasn't the leeks that got me to try this recipe though-it was the mustard. Being a fan of the pungent and spicy, I have a serious disdain for that polyester yellow stuff that masquerades as mustard at hot dog stands and fast food restaurants across the USA. So this May when I came across a recipe for leeks in a mustard vinaigrette that advised using the most pungent French mustard you could find (preferably flown directly from France itself), I knew I had to try it. This recipe is from the Washington Post. I indicate my changes in the recipe below. My version is a bit healthier, thanks to the cut in oil, while retaining the all important sharp mustardy flavour of the dish.

Extra-Sharp Leeks Vinaigrette

5 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, roots trimmed, halved length-wise (see picture above) and rinsed.

5 tablespoons of hot Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 tablespoon of red wine vinegar

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (the original recipe calls for 1/2 cup, which you may use if you prefer)

1/4 tsp kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper


1. Cleaning leeks is easy, just cut off the tattered bright green tops and the white roots on the very end, then slice them in half lengthwise. Run the sliced leeks under some water and rinse them thoroughly so that any dirt that may be hiding in the layers of delectable leaves is properly flushed out. To make sure that a large portion of the leek is white, farmers usually heap up the soil around the base of the plants to hide that part from the sun, and this can sometimes cause dirt to sneak in between the leaves. This cleaning procedure ensures that none of it ends up in your final dish.

2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. The original recipe says that one should "reunite the leek halves; bundle leeks and secure with kitchen string." I must admit that I don't own any kitchen string, so I just place the leek halves directly into the water and handle them gently so they don't fall apart. Feel free to tie them together if you like. Either way, simmer the leek halves until fork-tender, which should take about 15 minutes. Drain the leeks and let them cool.

3. Whisk together the mustard, lemon juice and vinegar, then slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking as you go. Add salt and pepper to taste. Slice each leek lengthwise into thirds and toss with the vinaigrette. You probably will have some extra, which you can use for other things, such as dressing up the winter salad that I posted about a few days ago. The other nice thing about this recipe is that you can make it ahead of time. The leeks keep perfectly well in the fridge for days, either with or without the vinaigrette.

This makes a great side dish for a traditional "meat and potatoes" kind of meal. Take it from me and don't try eating it in huge portions-the mustard, vinegar and leeks can be overpowering if consumed in quantity. But as a side dish, this is delicious and adds a nice exclamation point of flavour to your dinner or your Thanksgiving table, if you are in the USA and planning your menu for that holiday.

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