Bonjour, Spring! Walking around in the misty haze of this wet week, I’m reminded of childhood afternoons spent in the soil of my French countryside garden. Following breakfast of coffee and croissants, I would trail after ma mère and mimic her green thumb with gusto. We’d gather bushels of late-season leeks and then merrily carry them home for a feast as the slow, sweet wind whipped at our backs.
Okay, so none of that really happened. In reality, the closest I ever came to the French countryside was the Central Park Zoo, and childhood gardening occurred only on the roof of my elementary school. But my New York City upbringing did not halt my love of leeks, which is steadfast and true.
Leeks, which are often harvested in the fall but can also be found at many farmer’s markets and grocery stores in the spring, are members of the Allium family. Milder in flavor than their vegetable relatives, onions and garlic, leeks have a slightly sweet, subtle taste. While they add immediate depth to any soup or stock, leeks are just as interesting when prepared on their own.
One simple and elegant way to highlight the leek is through the French bistro classic, leeks vinaigrette. As with any dish containing leeks, it is very important to thoroughly wash them. To do so, cut the vegetables and submerge them in a large bowl of cold water. Swirl them gently to release their dirt and then lift them out of the water with a slotted spoon and into a colander to drain. If residual dirt still exists (as it might since leeks are complete soil hoarders), rinse out the dirty bowl and rewash.
Leeks vinaigrette can be prepared many different ways. In this version, the leeks should be served warm and drizzled with a simple dressing. Many times this dish is garnished with a chopped hard-boiled egg, creating an excellent source of protein and a more complete meal (although, I’m not so sure that too many French chefs had heart-healthy goals in mind when creating this dish, non?).
Feel free to experiment with cooking techniques (such as roasting or braising) and vinaigrettes of your choice. Bon appétit!
2 pounds leeks (white and light green part only), split and sliced
1 shallot, minced
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 to 4 TBSP red wine vinegar (other vinegars may be substituted if you prefer)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
- Trim dark green, woody top and hairy base off leeks. Cut in half lengthwise. With the flat center down, slice leek into ¼ inch half moons. Carefully submerge leeks in a bowl of cool water to remove dirt. Allow leek layers to separate to remove excess debris. Lift leeks from bowl with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Pat dry.
- Prepare the vinaigrette. Add olive oil, vinegar and Dijon mustard to a bowl (or blender!) and whisk until emulsified. Stir in the shallot, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust vinegar and seasoning accordingly.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (the water should be intensely salty and should taste like your tears. If you’re not sure what tears taste like then you have never made a horribly unsuccessful holiday dinner. Congratulations.). Add leeks and simmer until tender but not soggy, about 9 minutes. Carefully remove leeks with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Pat dry.
- Arrange leeks on a serving dish and drizzle with vinaigrette.
Mallory Stuchin is a natural foods chef and a vegetable butcher at Eataly.