By Eileen Goltz
While asparagus tends to be one of the most-called-upon vegetables during Pesach, sometimes the price and availability make it just one more of the très expensive items we have to buy for the eight-day food fest of Passover. I say, make the switch to leeks and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how versatile and delicious this sweet, onion-flavored vegetable can be.
Sometimes called the poor man’s asparagus, a leek is an onion without the crying—and with all the flavor. Leeks contain antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins and are very low in calories. When preparing a leek, you can keep it simple—slowly braise it or add some spices and herbs and pair it with other vegetables for a sweetly complex, subtle, and mellow taste. The leek should not be considered merely a substitute for other vegetables—it’s hearty and delicious enough to complement any meat, chicken, or fish you serve it with.
When shopping, you should look for medium-sized leeks with bright green leaves. They should be firm, with no visible blemishes or bruises, and the stalk should be white. Look for medium-sized ones for consistency in cooking. Smaller and larger leeks all taste the same—they just take a bit less or more cooking time.
You should know up front that a leek is a dirt-magnet vegetable and will require lots of cleaning once you get to the prep part. The roots hang on to the dirt, but it also works its way into the leaves, much as it does with onions. The best way to get rid of it is to cut off about a third of an inch of the bottom with the root attached. The next step is to cut off the top part of the green stalks. The ends of the leek are fibrous, so you don’t want to cook them. The lighter green and white section of the stalk is what you want, and the next thing is to cut the leek in half lengthwise. This is where you rinse, rinse, and rinse again. Make sure to check the layers to get rid of any dirt. Then you can dice, chop, or keep them cut in half and start cooking.
Leeks are not just for Pesach, and you can get them at a reasonable price all year around. The following recipes will delight anyone who’s looking for that special something for a week filled with matzah that isn’t filled with matzah. v
Submitted by Reggie Bantsky
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 medium leeks, cleaned and chopped
pinch of sugar
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 whole salmon fillet, about 1½ lb.
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 Tbsp. ketchup
salt and pepper
½ cup pine nuts or almonds, toasted
In a skillet, combine butter and 1 tablespoon oil and heat until the butter melts. Add leeks, pinch of sugar, and garlic and sauté over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are very soft, 15–20 minutes. Remove from heat, season with salt, and cool to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350°. Place whole fillet, skin-side down, on a large cutting board. Slice the fillet almost in half lengthwise but not all the way through, as if you were slicing a hot-dog bun. Place a piece of parchment paper on a rimmed cookie sheet. Place the sliced fillet on top. Pull back the top of the cut fillet.
In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, lemon zest, ketchup, and remainder of olive oil and whisk to combine. Brush three-fourths of the mixture over all the sides of the salmon. Spread the leek and garlic mixture over the bottom layer of salmon and then place the top layer on top of the filling. Spoon the remaining one-fourth of the sauce over the top of the fish. Bake for about 16–18 minutes or until the salmon is firm to the touch. Remove from the oven, let cool 4–5 minutes, and place on a serving platter. Garnish with dill and toasted nuts. Serves 4; this recipe can be doubled or tripled.
Modified from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
4 medium–large leeks, well rinsed, dried, sliced
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
⅓ cup plain yogurt or milk
pinch dried oregano
½ tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded pepper Jack cheese
Parmesan cheese for dusting the top
In an ovenproof skillet, sauté the leeks in 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil until they become soft and start to brown. Remove the leeks and set aside. Don’t clean the pan. Preheat oven to broil.
In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, oregano, rosemary, and salt and pepper. Add the leeks, and whisk to combine. Melt the remaining butter in the pan and add the olive oil. Pour in the egg–leek mixture into the hot pan and cook, over medium heat, for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the shredded pepper Jack cheese on top.
Place the pan under the broiler and broil for 2–3 minutes or until the frittata puffs up and becomes golden brown. Remove immediately and sprinkle the top with the Parmesan cheese. Cool for 2–3 minutes, then cut into 6 wedges and serve.
Modified from Almost Vegetarian by Diana Shaw
4 large boiling potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 large leeks, cut in half, cleaned, and sliced into long, thin strips
4 cups (1 quart) water
1 cup buttermilk or 1 cup plain yogurt
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup minced parsley
½ cup minced green onions or chives
¼ cup minced dill
In a large saucepan, combine the potatoes, leeks, and water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30–40 minutes until the potatoes are soft. In a blender or food processor or with an immersion blender, purée the soup. Add the buttermilk or yogurt, and heat the soup slowly over low heat, uncovered, until just warmed through. Season with salt and pepper. Add the parsley, green onions, and dill. Mix to combine. Serve hot or cold. Serves 4.
Gourmet, November 1998
2 medium leeks
¾ lb. mushrooms
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
¼ cup white wine
1 can vegetable broth
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh green onions
Cut leeks into ¼-inch-thick rounds. In a large bowl of cold water, wash leeks well and lift from water into a colander to drain. Thinly slice mushrooms. In 3-quart saucepan, heat butter over moderately high heat until foam subsides, and sauté leeks, stirring, 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté, stirring, until the liquid that the mushrooms give off is evaporated and the mushrooms begin to brown. Add wine and boil 1 minute. Add broth and salt and pepper to taste and simmer 2 minutes. Serve soup sprinkled with chives. Makes about 3 cups, serving 2.
Modified from TheKitchn.com
¼ cup olive oil, divided
1 large leek, white and light green parts only, cut into ¼-inch-thick rounds
1 garlic clove, minced
juice of ¼ lemon
freshly ground black pepper
freshly ground nutmeg
1½ lb. russet potatoes or other all-purpose potatoes, scrubbed
Preheat oven to 400°. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan over moderate heat. Add the leeks, garlic, and a pinch of salt and turn the heat to low. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes until the leeks are soft but not too browned. Stir in lemon juice, a crack of pepper, and a grate of nutmeg. Set aside.
Use a mandoline or chef’s knife to cut the potatoes into ⅛-inch-thick slices. Keep the potato slices stacked together to help prevent discoloration. (Do not rinse or soak the slices, as the natural potato starch helps hold the dish together.)
Grease the bottom and sides of a 10-inch ovenproof skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and lightly sprinkle with pepper and nutmeg. Working from the outside in, use a third of the potato slices to cover the bottom of the skillet with a layer of slightly overlapping, concentric rings.
Brush or rub a third of the remaining olive oil over the potato slices, season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and spread half of the leeks on top, leaving a ½-inch border along the edges. Top with a third of the potato slices. Continue building the galette in layers; when finished, you should have three layers of potatoes and two layers of leeks.
Bake in the oven until golden and tender when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes. If the potatoes start to burn before they are cooked all the way through, cover with aluminum foil and remove for a few minutes at the end of baking.
Let cool for 5–10 minutes. Run a spatula or knife along the edges to loosen the galette and invert it onto a dish. Serve warm, cut into wedges.
© Eileen Goltz
Eileen Goltz is a freelance kosher foods writer. She graduated from Indiana University and the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris. She lectures on various foods related topics across the U.S. and Canada and writes columns for the CJN in Chicago, kosherscoop.com, and the OU Shabbat Shalom website, www.ou.org. She is also wrote the Perfectly Pareve Cookbook (Feldheim).