Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Thursday, May 23

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


As the winter comes to an end, it gets harder and harder to find vegetables that aren't colorless, flavorless, and lackluster. We've been getting a twice monthly box of fresh fruit and vegetables from a local organic market, which is keeping our refrigerator happy and our cooking skills honed. It's also requiring me to find recipes for vegetables that I've never cooked in my life.

I've found myself returning to my cooking bible (Joy of Cooking) looking for interesting recipes and information for these rarely used vegetables. In our most recent box, we got leeks. I didn't think I'd ever eaten them, let alone cooked with them, and I was stumped and looking for more information than JOC (pronounced Jacques) could provide.

Leeks are a member of the onion family, but a distant cousin of what we think of flavor-wise. They look like overgrown scallions, green onions, but they're much more mild. In fact, it appears to take quite a bit of the white stalk to make much of a flavor addition. The white and the light green bits on the stalk are what most recipes will call for. The stalks, dark green and lightly fragrant, are best used to flavor soups or stocks and then removed. If you don't plan on using them within about three weeks of purchase, cut the leaves off, put them in a zipper bag and store them in the freezer. The next time you go to make a soup just toss the leaves in and then fish them out before serving.

The annoying thing about leeks is that they like to collect dirt in their stems. Because their leaves are tightly wrapped it is a lot easier for dirt to get in than it is for you to get it out. Cleaning them is highly important, unless you like eating mud. By cutting off the roots and about 1/4 inch of the stem you should be able to see if there is a lot of dirt collected in the stem. If there is, you might have to take each leaf off and clean it. Another way to go about this is to cut off the roots, cut off the dark green leaves, slice the stem lengthwise and float the portions in ice water. The dirt should sink to the bottom of the bowl.

Since leeks are mild in flavor, the texture needs to be preserved. Overcooking them gets you a lumpy, mushy, unappealing paste with fibers in it. You want to be able to pierce it with a fork but not be able to mash it.

I'll present two recipes, both of which are frighteningly simple and wonderfully delicious. The first recipe sounds like a difficult French dish, but it isn't. Vichyssoise is actually a recipe created in America by a French chef and is so easy and yummy. It calls for a bit of cream, but the cream can be omitted and you'll still get a wonderful soup. The second recipe is leek and asparagus frittata. It's a lot easier than it sounds as well, and frittatas aren't just for breakfast.

Potato and leek soup with cream (Vichyssoise) Serves 2-3
2 tablespoons butter
4 leeks, sliced and washed
2 potatoes, peeled and chunked
Salt and pepper
2 16 oz. cans chicken/vegetable broth or 8 cups water
1 cup heavy cream

In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the leeks and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add water or broth and bring to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20-30 minutes. (The smaller the potatoes, the faster this will cook.) To get a smooth texture, you can either use a handheld mixer or stick blender to beat the lumps out of the soup or let the soup cool and place it in a blender and puree. Return soup to the pot (if necessary) and stir in the cream. If you decide to leave out the cream, I would recommend using broth for the soup or it will taste thin. Traditional Vichyssoise, with cream, is served cold, but it tastes just as wonderful hot and dairy-free.

Asparagus and Leek Frittata Serves 1 (easily doubled)
1 stalk of asparagus, bottom removed and chopped into 1/2-inch bites
1/2 cup thinly sliced white and pale green part of leek, washed well and drained
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons coarsely grated Gruyere
1 teaspoon chopped chives (or small garlic clove)
a pinch of dried parsley (or fresh, chopped)
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil

You'll want to steam the asparagus bits for about 7 minutes, or boil them for about 4. In a skillet (one that's oven-safe -- no plastic) cook the leek in the butter over medium heat, stirring, for 12 to 15 minutes, or until it is very soft, and add salt and pepper to taste. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, add 1/2 of the Parmesan, 1/2 of the Gruyere, the chives, the parsley, salt and pepper and whisk the mixture until it is combined well. In the skillet, add and heat the olive oil over moderate heat until it is hot but not smoking. Pour in the egg mixture, distributing the asparagus and leeks evenly, and cook the frittata, without stirring, for 6 to 8 minutes or until the edge is set but the center is still soft. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan and Gruyere over the top. Broil the frittata under a preheated broiler about 4 inches from the heat for 4 to 5 minutes. Take it out of the oven, run a thin knife around the edge, and slide the frittata onto a serving plate. Cut the frittata into wedges and serve it warm or at room temperature. Bon appétite!

GB store


Nicholas Carey / March 10, 2004 3:44 PM

You said:

The annoying thing about leeks is that they like to collect dirt in their stems. Because their leaves are tightly wrapped it is a lot easier for dirt to get in than it is for you to get it out. Cleaning them is highly important, unless you like eating mud.

Cleaning leeks is easy…you just need to do it the way it's done in la France:

  • Trim the heavy green leaves of the leek
  • Quarter the leek lengthwise, but don't cut through the root—leave about a half to three-quarters of an inch uncut. The leek should now resemble a very loose, rather floppy brush.
  • Now fan the cut leek under your faucet with the cold water running. The mud should just rinse right out.
  • Put the leek down on your cutting board and cut it crosswise into 1/4 "slices". Et Voilá! Your leek is diced and ready to use.


Kate / March 10, 2004 3:46 PM

Yum! You know, this is just like the kale thing all over again -- I never really thought of leeks as a vegetable (rather than as a flavoring, which is mostly how we treat onions and garlic) until I roomed with a German. They're apparently much more commonly eaten over there. We used to blanch them, then cook them in a quiche or just with the egg-milk-nutmeg filling (crustless quiche?) garnished with raisins soaked in sherry, and curry pecans.

Cinnamon / March 10, 2004 11:03 PM

Wow! Thanks, Nicholas. I knew there had to be an easier way to go about it. I'll be making use of your French technique next time.

Kate, I could see them going quite well with nutmeg in an eggy thing. I'd probably substitute dried cherries for the raisins because sherried cherries are good all the time.

Xan / March 12, 2004 3:33 PM

I know someone who left his love for leeks at Hampshire College in the mid-eighties.

He'd snuck into an all-girl dorm after dinner and and stayed the night with a girl he'd been smooching on. At some point in the evening he'd had potato-leek soup. At some point in the night, we woke up super nauseous and made his way - naked - to the big multi-stall bathroom. He vomited and vomited, then passed out - his head hitting the toilet before the floor.

He awoke, naked and bleeding with a handful of college girls standing over him.

I'm not kidding when I say that to this day, he feels poison in his stomach when thinking of leeks. Ahh, the 80s.

Cinnamon / March 14, 2004 1:13 AM

Yeesh, Xan! That's awful. I think I'd blame it on something else than the leeks though. But I can understand the association. Hopefully he doesn't have physical scars to go with his mental scars.


About the Author(s)

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15