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What is this thing and what do you use it for?

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That was a question my husband faced the other day, in our local farmers market. Leek. The most common vegetable I always assumed everybody knows. I use leek so often I never even think about it. The other day, I was busy prepping for a big party, so my husband offered to do some additional shopping for me. It’s a big help that saves me tons of time I can use prepping other things. On the list, there were also 5 leeks.

“I am grabbing the leeks and this lady approached me – ‘What is this? What do you do with it? My husband bought it and I don’t know what the heck do I use it for? …” he said to me when he came back. He didn’t offer any solution to this lady’s problem since he mostly stays out of the kitchen. He said “I wish I could tell you, but my wife is a chef and she sure uses it a lot…” It got me thinking. Wow. Leek. It never even crossed my mind that there were people out there who don’t even know how and where to use it.

Leek wholeIn the onion family but much finer, leek to me is somewhat special. I even devoted leek it’s own soup – yes, the Leek soup! I also use it for other vegetable soups as well as many other dishes. Caramelized leeks elevate many of my successful recipes. When you have the patience and let sliced leeks sauté in olive oil and some butter on low heat, they become soft, sweet goodness and transform many ordinary dishes into a gourmet category.

The biggest pain in the neck is to clean that thing. Not my favorite part. I tried different methods and what seems to work the best for me is to cut off the roots, dark green leaves (the light green part is the one to use), take it to the sink with running water, take off the outer layers, cut it longwise and just unwrap each leaves, while holding it together, so the dirt washes out . Some people slice it to the rings first, let it sit in bowl full of water and then spoon it out, so the dirt sits on the bottom. You see, I love my knife too much and the sound of sand or soil being cut with my super sharp knife just isn’t appealing to me. Try whatever works for you; just don’t give up on leek!

My friend chef asked me what I did to my silky delicious mashed potatoes that they tasted so good. My secret? Caramelized leeks. Yeah, I told him. Just like that. Now he makes it too and have a success with it. Why not, let’s spread the love around.

How to pick the best leeks in the store:

The longer the “body” of the leek, the better. Less exposure to the soil, less cleaning, and more of the leek you can actually use. I do discard the tired outer leaves, but there is no need to throw away the nice, dark leaves. You can cook them in the soup for flavor (they are slightly tougher so I then throw them away).

The longer (leek) the better
The longer (leek) the better

Here are some of my favorite recipes improved with leek:

Leek mashed potatoes

Cook your favorite potatoes until soft. Skin on or off, however you like it. I prefer to cook them skin on. While potatoes are cooking, clean 1-2 leeks (depends on how many potatoes you are cooking), slice them into rings (about 0.2 inches) and add to a frying pan where you melted about half a cup of butter with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. OK, it’s a lot of butter, but you add butter to your mashed potatoes, don’t you? The latest research says that low fat diets are so over and let’s finally realize that our body needs healthy animal fat (preferably from grass fed animals, that weren’t exposed to hormones and pesticides and are not genetically modified).

In a small pot also heat about cup or two of whole milk or heavy cream, or mix (depends how silky you want it. More cream, more delish.). Keep an eye on the milk and turn the heat off immediately, when it almost reaches the boiling point. Better yet, take it from the heat. Trust me, skip this step and you will have to clean up your stove from burned on milk, on top of those dirty leeks. Yes, done that many times. Not a good idea to go and check your email while waiting for the milk to heat up.

Let the leeks sauté on medium low, stirring occasionally until translucent, but not brown or burned. As they sauté, they release a beautiful aroma and if you taste them now, they will be almost sweet.

When the potatoes are soft enough that the knife goes easily through, leeks are soft and milk or cream is hot, drain the potatoes. Add sautéed leeks with butter and start mashing (either by hand masher, or in the food processor, your choice). Add little bit of milk and mash. Add more as needed. Taste and adjust seasoning. Sometimes, when I really want to go crazy, I even add mashed roasted garlic to the mix. Just a few cloves. It’s divine.

Leek soup

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This is probably some of the cheapest and easiest soups to make. I used to love it as a kid and still make it for my husband, who happens to be a soup lover.

Ingredients:

3-5 leeks

1 carrot

1 tablespoon of flour

Olive oil

Butter

Salt and pepper

To get the worst out of the way, start with cleaning the leeks. I use 3-5 leeks for a large pot of soup. Cut off the roots and dark green leaves at the end, that will leave you with the light green part. Cut it longwise and wash under the running water so all the dirt comes out from between the layers. Cut clean leeks into thin rings and put aside. Here comes my grandma secret to a beautiful, golden color of her soups: Peel a carrot….

In the large soup pot heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and ¼ cup of butter. Add grated carrot and mix with wooden spoon. Saute it shortly until it releases a beautiful color and aroma. That will be the base of your soup.

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Add flour, mix with butter and cook for ½ minute.Don’t burn your roux (that’s how it’s called).

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Fill your soup pot with water to 3 quarters and season with salt. At this time, add all the sliced leeks to the water and bring it to boil. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, until leeks soften. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

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Lately, I like to also add florets of cauliflower to the leek soup, just to make it little thicker. You can also add pasta or anything you like. This super simple soup has an amazing flavor thanks to leeks. I hope you enjoy it.

Some other recipes that LEEK can improve:

Vera's Shrimp Criolli
Chef Vera’s Shrimp Criolli

Shrimp Criolli

My original recipe that freshly baked tomatoes and sautéed leeks elevated to the entire new level. That’s why it’s sometimes worth it to make things from scratch.

Shrimp Scampi

Adding a few spoonful of caramelized leeks into your meatballs or meatloaf recipe, will make it tastier, juicier and everybody would want your secret recipe!

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms… adding sauteed leeks make it moist, yummy and simply irresistible!

Stuffed mushrooms

My Greek friend once told me to saute leeks in butter, then prepare filo, add teaspoon of caramelized leeks into small cut squares, add tiny bit of feta cheese, wrap it up and bake for a super delicious appetizer. Everybody asked for a recipe and nobody believed it was just leek working its magics!

There are plenty more uses for this great vegetable.

Please let me know if my suggestions helped you improve your favorite dish! Do you have other original use for delicious leek?

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