Friday, September 28, 2012

The Perfume of Braised Leeks












The spectrum of color in summer fruits and vegetables is as rich as the multitude of flavors they provide. So what does one do when the season changes, just shy of the multihued foliage that portends the stark landscape of winter? Forage the farmer's market for the last of summer leeks!










Leeks are harvested in summer and winter with a noticeable difference in strength of flavor from one season to the next. Summer leeks are less alliaceous than their winter brethren, and slightly smaller in size. On sight, a leek looks like a giant scallion which is a reflection of the flavor profile of this vegetable. A freshly cut leek is redolent of scallion and sweet onion, but braising releases a delectable fragrance that registers "soup" in the brain. The perfume of leeks lingers long after a dish has been cooked, infusing the kitchen and nearby environs with the comforting aroma of sustenance. If you live in an apartment building your neighbors will know you are cooking if there are leeks in the pot; their aroma is a savory siren song to even the most sublimated of appetites.


















One of the joys of preparing leeks is the way the vegetable looks when it is cut crosswise. The concentric circles that form the stalk have a fractal quality that cause one to ponder the perfection of nature. Braising leeks in a pot over the stove is one of the best ways to cook this vegetable. Faye Levy's recipe for "Turkish Braised Leeks with Carrots," in Feast from the Mideast is divine. Preparation takes more effort than cooking as leeks have a tendency to collect dirt in their fronds.* Careful rinsing easily remedies the matter and is worth the effort. Glass Petal Smoke has modified the recipe to taste, which you are free to do as we all cook from intuition, memory and our own sense of flavor.

Turkish Braised Leeks with Carrots
Recipe by Faye Levy
(Modified by Michelle Krell Kydd)

Ingredients
  • 3 large leeks (rinsed, cut crosswise, then into halves)
  • 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
  • 4 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1/3 cup miniature white kalijeera rice  (white baby Basmati rice is also good)
  • 1 1/3 cup chopped San Marzano tomatoes from a can (Roma tomatoes are fine)
  • 1 14.5oz can College Inn Light and Fat-Free Chicken Broth
  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • 2 tbsp. dark agave nectar (or 1 tsp. raw sugar)
  • 2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • fresh black pepper to taste
Directions:
  • Clean and prep leeks, onions and carrots.
  • Heat olive oil in a stew pan over medium-low heat.
  • Add onion and cook until translucent, (five minutes with the lid on, stirring often).
  • Add leeks and carrots. Cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add rice, tomatoes, chicken broth, water and agave nectar. Bring to a boil.
  • Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes or until vegetables and rice are tender (check every 8 minutes to make sure that everything is moist, adding a bit of water if needed). 
  • When the dish is finished cooking turn off heat and add lemon juice.
  • Serve garnished with chopped parsley and a bit of fresh black pepper to taste.
Notes:
*This video from Gourmet provides detailed instruction on how to clean leeks. The Kitchn also has a terrific post on prepping leeks for cooking.

This recipe was tweaked using more carrots, "San Marzano" tomatoes, aromatic rice, agave nectar and chicken broth. The alterations add richness and flavor to the dish. The original recipe can be found on pages 248 and 249 of Faye Levy's Feast from the Mideast

Feast from the Mideast by Faye Levy is no longer in print. Glass Petal Smoke recommends getting your hands on a used copy. Biblio.com is a terrific search engine for used books and is highly recommended as it supports independent booksellers.