Thursday, August 25, 2011

Take a Leek

Sorry--it was the first title that came to mind. I did spin a few other ideas, but none had any punch, and in the end, I just didn't want to waste any more time coming up with a better one. So it goes.

Everyone seems to appreciate the smell of onions cooking, and so many classic dishes begin this way, but I want to speak up a bit for another prominent member of the allium family--one that really doesn't get the respect it deserves. In Europe, everyone knows what a leek is, and how it participates in gastronomy's grand design. In America, not nearly as much. It's an elegant vegetable, with a specific place in the flavor spectrum, a noble one, at once congenial and understated. If an onion were a trumpet, the leek would be an oboe.

It's important for both human and environmental health to eat as diverse a selection of produce as possible, and to constantly push the envelope that tends to rein in what our choices may be. For the environment, this will be a benefit by supporting local farmers who take the initiative to grow non-mainstream plants, especially heirloom varieties, thus promoting biodiversity and replenishing the soil, which is at the heart of nature itself. In terms of our health, eating diversely ensures that we obtain all the micronutrients we need for optimum nourishment, but it also offers us an organic shield from dietary boredom--and this is no small thing, because it's ennui (a most modern affliction) that leads many of us to eat processed junk.

Back to the leek. I'm still on a roll with my fresh turmeric experiments, trying to stretch into areas where turmeric as a spice is not particularly comfortable--or where the host might not be terribly receptive to its advances. A recent successful meld came about as a last minute flash, where I suddenly decided to include some freshly grated turmeric just before pulling the dish off the heat, and then garnished the plate with a bit more. I'm not sure I would have planned this combination, but it worked.

Leeks and Mushrooms with Fresh Turmeric Root

It all began innocently enough. I had some leek tops--the green part--left over from making a dish that required only the white portion, and was working on a recipe for what I planned to call "leeks and mushrooms." It's a very simple dish. All you do is cook thinly sliced leeks in a little coconut oil (my best choice for obtaining the cooking qualities of butter) until soft and beginning to color, and then add quartered button mushrooms. The secret to mushrooms is to cover them until they begin to release their liquid, then uncover them and cook until they reabsorb the liquid, and they're done. Then you can add salt, pepper, and anything else you may have on your mind. For me, it was shreds of fresh turmeric (don't ask me why). I grated it right into the pan, turned it a few times with a silicone spatula, and that was it. Off the heat, I folded in a little chopped parsley. On the plate, I garnished with more parsley and a few gratings of the turmeric. Loved it.

The same day, I made another new leek dish, which I'm calling "Quinoa with Leeks and White Truffle Oil." Three things I really love in a single item, with nothing else to muck it up. This was pure comfort food, but by no means pedestrian.

Quinoa with Leeks and White Truffle Oil
I put a cup of quinoa on to cook, with Celtic salt and a vegetable bouillon cube. While it was bubbling happily on the back burner, I cut four leeks (white part only) into half-inch dice. I sautéed them in a small amount of EVOO, turning the heat down just enough to keep them from coloring, until they were very tender. By this time, they had cooked down from about four cups to about two, but the flavor and aroma were downright intoxicating. I seasoned them with a little salt and pepper, stirring lightly, and then folded in the quinoa. Just before serving, I drizzled about a tablespoon of white truffle oil over the mixture and fluffed it through. I served it garnished with snipped chives. I think leeks and truffles were meant to be together, cream or no cream. The quinoa took on their collective aura readily, making the entire dish into a veritable siren's song. (Yes, I do think sailors would turn their ships into the rocks, questing for the source of this heavenly scent.)



  1. Will definitely try these - especially the quinoa version! Look and sound amazing - need to taste!!

  2. My husband is Indian, therefore we use turmeric quite a bit. Although, I've never thought to add it to anything other than Indian cuisine. Love the idea of adding it to quinoa with leeks. I also love the way you write and the references to my favorite books!

  3. I will try both...! numnumnam....

  4. Thanks, all! I appreciate your taking the time--it's good to know someone is reading ;-)

  5. Yummy! U r the best, and yes reading your posts often...