Round the Table: O, Those Dirty, Delicious Leeks!

Garlic, onions, shallots and leeks are all cousins in the great allium family.  Each has their own distinctive characteristic and flavor profile. Garlic and onions are like those cousins you see every weekend at grandmother’s house, but shallots and leeks are those distant cousins that only appear once or twice a year and seem exotic and glamorous. Unlike onions, leeks have a harsh flavor when raw and are almost never eaten raw, but when cooked, the harsh leek mellows and turns delicate and mild.

Leeks are an ancient vegetable, in fact, the Israelites wandering in the desert put leeks on the list of foods they wanted instead of manna (Numbers 11:4-6). It is said that Emperor Nero’s love of leeks gave him the nickname Porophagus, which means leek lover and ancient Greek physician Hippocrates prescribed leeks for nosebleeds. And even more interesting, leeks were worshiped in ancient Wales for their ability to keep evil spirits away.

Generally, we only eat the tender white bottoms and a bit of the light green parts, but don’t discard the tough deep green leaves. They have plenty of flavor and since they require longer cooking, they are perfect for the stock pot.

Leeks are dirty! Be sure to clean them thoroughly; no one likes a mouth full of dirty.

Leeks are beautiful and delicious, but that loveliness disappears when you get a mouthful of sand and grit. Obviously, the Israelites forgot that leeks are notoriously dirty when they whined about needing more variety in their diet. Maybe sand and dirt in leeks is what drives evil spirits away in Wales. Or perhaps Nero got a mouthful of grit and in a fit of rage burned Rome, after all archeologist and historians cannot pinpoint the exact cause of this disaster. We may never know the effect that leeks have had on modern society, but what we do know is that lurking between those lovely pale green layers is a surprising amount of dirt.  For many, cleaning leeks is more trouble than it’s worth.  Follow these step by step instructions and your leeks will go from gritty to squeaky clean in a snap.

Step 1: Give the outside of the vegetable a thorough rinsing in cold water.

Step 2: Trim away the tough, dark green parts of the leek (save to make stock with). Cut at angle all around the leek to preserve as much of the tender, pale green part as possible.

Step 3:  Trim and toss the root ends.

Step 4:  Slice the leek lengthwise into halves. Do not separate the layers, keep them as intact as possible.

Step 5: Bundle the leeks together and cut into half-moon rounds about ½ inches.

Step 6: Place the leeks in a big bowl, (taller bowls work better than shallow bowls) of tepid water and agitate the leeks until the layers have separated and the leeks appear clean. The sandy grit will fall to the bottom of the bowl. Skim off the clean leeks leaving the sandy water behind.

Now that you have clean leeks, let’s get cooking.

This recipe for Baked Eggs with Spinach and Leeks is the perfect supper for Meatless Monday. When baking, watch the eggs carefully and take them out when the whites are set and the yolks are to your liking.

Baked eggs with spinach and leeks make a lovely light supper or brunch dish. This dish halves well.

Baked Eggs with Spinach and Leeks

Yield: 4 servings

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large leek (white and light green parts only) washed and sliced as directed
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 8-10 cups of baby spinach, washed and trimmed
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 4-6 large eggs
  • ¼ cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Spray a shallow 1 ½ to 2 quart baking dish with non-stick spray and set aside.

Set a large skillet over medium heat and melt the butter with the olive oil.  Add the leeks and cook, stirring often until they are soft and tender, but now browned, about 6 to 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and spinach. Season with salt and pepper, continue cooking until the spinach has wilted, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Place the leek/spinach mixture in the prepared baking dish.  Make an indention for each egg you are using and crack an egg into each indention.  Pour 2 Tablespoons of cream into each dish and season with salt and pepper.

Place the baking dish on a baking sheet and bake the eggs until the whites are set and the yolks are to your liking, about 10-15 minutes.

Serve.

Roasted veggies need not be boring when you have leeks in the house!

Roasted Leeks and Potatoes

Yield: 4 servings

  • 1 pound of red potatoes (around 6 small) washed and quartered
  • 2 leeks (white and light green part only) washed and sliced as directed
  • A1/3 cup of olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon of Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups of baby leafy greens (spinach, kale or shaved Brussels sprouts)
  • Chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray.

Place the potatoes, leeks, olive oil, vinegar, garlic in a large bowl and toss to coat all the vegetables with oil and vinegar.  Arrange the vegetables in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.  Roast for 30 to 35 minutes or until the vegetables are fork tender. Turn the potatoes once during the roasting time.

When the vegetables are done, place the greens in a small, microwave safe bowl and add a teaspoon or two of water.  Cover and steam the greens in the microwave for 30 second to 1 minute, or until the greens are softened and steamed.

Place the roasted veggies and any pan drippings into a large serving bowl; add the steamed greens and toss to combine.