The leeks this summer have been exceptionally sweet and tangy, forcing me to expand my repertoire on how to prepare these milder members of the onion family.
For those with not much experience with leeks, here's a little history via "The New Food Lover's Companion": "Nero believed leeks would improve his singing voice and is said to have eaten prodigious quantities to that end. In the sixth century A.D., the Welsh made leeks their national symbol because they were convinced that the leeks they wore on their helmets to distinguish them from their enemies strengthened them and helped them win wars."
Thinner leeks are said to be more tender, though the large ones at the supermarket have great flavor, even if you often have to peel back the first couple of layers.
You can eat the white part of the leek and the pale green that lies underneath the dark green outer leaves. Peeling the leeks varies from person to person. All want you to remove the bottom, then the advice begins to vary.
Some will have you cut the leek in half, removing all of the green; others will have you peel in small circles upward, so you can get to the edible green near the top. Slicing them in small pieces or larger pieces will depend on your preference.
Whatever cut you desire, you have to clean the leeks before cooking to remove any grit between the layers. You can rinse the pieces by hand, running your fingers through them to remove any dirt. I like soaking the pieces in water for 10 minutes or so, careful to remove only the leeks from the top of the water. The dirt will settle at the bottom.
You are now ready to cook.
Mye new favorite recipe this summer is a variation on a French classic: Steam the leeks, let them cool and then top with an herbal vinaigrette. You can find a version of this at Damien Watel's new Bistro Bakery just off the Olmos Circle.
But something happened with my first attempt. I cleaned the leeks and cut them into 3-inch pieces before steaming, yet that was too fibrous and ungainly for friends to eat comfortably.
For my next attempt, I took a large bunch of leeks and sliced them thinly before steaming. This worked on texture, but it was also strange to see the leeks reduce greatly in size. One large bunch produced one medium bowl.
Still, the flavor was intense and cooling on a hot day, which has led me to make it several times.
Steamed Leeks With an Herbal Vinaigrette
1 bunch leeks, trimmed, cut into 1/8-inch slices and rinsed
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped capers, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon dill pickle relish, optional
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Steam the leeks until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir them around the steamer once or twice. Let drain, squeeze some of the water from them. Refrigerate until cool.
About 30 minutes before serving, make the vinaigrette by mixing vinegar, oil, parsley, capers, shallot and dill relish. Add salt and pepper to taste, then toss with leeks and let marinate before serving.
Serve cold or at room temperature. It goes well with grilled meats from burgers and sausages to steaks or seafood.
Serves 6-8 as a side dish.