Recently, I attended a dinner party where the host was serving a dish made of leeks. It was the first time in my life that I'd had leeks as a focus of a dish instead of something just diced into a larger dish, and it made me rethink this sweet little vegetable as more than just a flavoring.
Belonging to the Amaryllidaceae family, the same category as onion and garlic, Leeks have been with us since the time of the Roman Emperors. They are said to have been a favorite of Emperor Nero, who enjoyed them in oils and soups and believed that consuming them gave him a clearer speaking voice. He was so fond of these that he got the nickname Porophagus (leek eater). In about 640 A.D., King Cadwaller instructed his Welsh soldiers to wear leeks as a badge of distinction against their enemies, the Saxons. Shakespeare alludes to the Welsh fondness for leeks in his play Henry V: "Your majesty says very true: if your majesties is remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps; which, your majesty know, to this hour is an honourable badge of service..."
Leeks contain sulfur-rich nutrients as well as flavonoids. Flavonoids are reported to reduce risk of asthma, stroke, heart disease and cancer.
Here's a recipe for Leek-Vegetable Fritters with Lemon Cream, from The New York Times, adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. When you’re ready to clean up, open a Seventh Generation Free & Clear Automatic Dishwashing Pac, to remove food particles without phosphates, synthetic fragrances or chlorine.
Leek-Vegetable Fritters with Lemon Cream
FOR THE FRITTERS:
- 2 pounds leeks, pale green and white parts only (or use 1 pound leeks and 1 pound cooked vegetables like carrots, potatoes, summer squash, beets, zucchini)
- 2 scallions, trimmed, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch cayenne
- 1 egg
- Vegetable oil, for frying
FOR THE CREAM:
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Pinch freshly grated lemon zest
1. Fill sink with cold water. Halve leeks lengthwise, then swish gently in water, fanning out layers to loosen any grit. Slice crosswise into 1/4-inch strips. (If using cooked vegetables, slice into 1/4-inch strips and add to bowl in Step 3.)
2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook leeks 3 to 4 minutes, until softened but not limp. Drain and wring dry in a towel.
3. Transfer leeks to a large bowl and add scallions. In another bowl, whisk together flour, 1 teaspoon salt, baking powder, a few grinds of black pepper and cayenne. Add to leeks and stir. Add egg and stir.
4. Heat oven to 200 degrees. In a large heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat until shimmering. Drop heaping tablespoons of leek mixture into skillet and lightly flatten with the back of a spatula. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes; if cooking too quickly, lower the heat. Flip fritters and cook until golden on the other side, another 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and transfer to oven.
5. Repeat with remaining leek mixture, adding oil and adjusting heat as needed.
6. When fritters are cooked, make cream: whisk all ingredients together and season to taste with salt. Serve warm fritters in stacks, with a dollop of cream on top.
About 1 dozen fritters