Every holiday, I start looking for a fresh vegetable to serve that isn’t connected to the perennial carrot tzimmes and/or green beans. I can’t afford asparagus for 12 — it’s almost as much as my shul dues — and broccoli is just too prosaic.
While I’ve heard leeks called the “poor man’s asparagus,” they are truly a stand-out vegetable in their own right. Leeks are a member of the allium family, which also contains garlic, onions and scallions. They can be eaten raw (still, they need to be cleaned and sliced very thin as they are fibrous and can be tough), roasted or braised as a side dish or as a subtle sweet and tangy onion-like flavor addition to any recipe.
Look for leeks with firm stems, without any spots or bruises and bright green leaves. Look for ones that have plenty of white on the stalk. You only use the white and light green parts for cooking. The size of your leeks doesn’t matter too much; when cooked the smaller stalks taste pretty much the same as the larger ones. The larger ones just require a little more time to cook.
Leeks have to be cleaned thoroughly as the stalks can be full of dirt and sand. You start by removing the outer layer of white leaves and trimming the base with a sharp knife to remove the roots. You want to keep the bottom in tact but make two perpendicular incisions up the middle of the stalk toward and through the end of the green tips.
Spread the stalk and leaves open and wash under cold running water. Drain, check for more dirt, and rinse again just to make sure.
Leek and Wild Rice Casserole
2 green peppers, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
1⁄4 cup oil
6 leeks, cleaned and chopped into 1⁄2-inch pieces
2 cups tomato juice
2 cups cooked wild rice
salt and pepper to taste
In a skillet, saute the green pepper and celery in the oil until they are soft but not mushy. Add the leeks and just enough boiling water to cover the vegetables. Cover and simmer 5 minutes.
Add the tomato juice and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the cooked rice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes or until the leeks are tender.
Serves 4 to 6.
Corn and Leek Chowder
(Dairy or Pareve)
2 Tbsps. butter or margarine
2 Tbsps.olive oil
1 and 1⁄2 cups coarsely chopped leek (2 leeks worth)
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup red bell pepper, chopped
2 and 1⁄2 cups milk or nondairy substitute
3 Tbsps. flour
2 and 1⁄2 cups vegetable broth
2 and 1⁄2 cups corn kernels frozen or fresh (about 4 ears fresh)
2 and 1⁄2 lbs. cubed peeled Yukon gold or red potato
1-2 tsps. salt
1⁄2 tsp. black pepper (or more to taste)
1⁄4 cup finely chopped parsley
3 Tbsps. chopped green onions or chives
In a stock pot, melt the butter or margarine and oil. Add the leeks, celery and bell pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 4 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
In a bowl, combine the milk and flour and whisk to combine. Slowly add the mixture to the stock pot whisking constantly. Stir in broth, corn, potato, salt and pepper.
Bring the soup to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook, covered for 20 to 30 minutes until the potato is tender. Stir in parsley and chives.
Serves 6 to 8.