Beyond green beans: Leeks with a lemon vinaigrette make an easy, impressive side

by Terry B on February 4, 2009

Break out of the green-beans-as-default-side-dish rut with quickly prepared Leeks with Lemon Dijon Vinaigrette. Recipe below.

Apparently, it’s week two of the tour de France here at Blue Kitchen. Last week was a very creamy, very French carrot soup. This week, it’s a French side dish whose impressive looks belie its ease of preparation. The unlikely star? Leeks. Ubiquitous in French cuisine, these mild onions usually play a bit part, often ending up puréed beyond recognition. Here, they’re cooked and served practically whole, giving you a sense that you’re eating something only very recently brought from the farm.

You can blame my lingering in France on Williams-Sonoma Collection: French. I’m very visual, especially when it comes to cooking, and this book is filled with gorgeous color photographs. For me, images of finished dishes not only help me understand how to prepare them—they give me some idea of how dishes will taste. Last week’s carrot soup was adapted from this cookbook, as is this dish.

Ironically, I was looking for a green bean recipe I’d seen—slender French haricots verts with shallots and lemon—when I came across the leeks. Hey, we’re big fans of green beans. They’re easy to make, versatile… and part of their name is green, so they must be healthy, right? But because of all these reasons to rely on green beans as a side, we can also get really, really tired of them. So when I saw the leeks, I knew I had to try them.

Long appreciated in the Mediterranean and Europe—drawings of leeks and actual dried specimens have been found at ancient Egyptian archeological sites—leeks have only recently gained popularity in the United States. It’s the most refined member of the onion family, with a mild flavor that develops a distinctly sweet note when cooked, especially when sautéed.

Part of the Allium family, like onions and garlic, leeks offer some serious health benefits, from lowering bad cholesterol and raising good to helping prevent ovarian, colon and prostate cancers, to stabilizing blood sugar levels.

In this recipe, their delicate sweetness balances nicely with a buttery sauce brightened with lemon juice and Dijon mustard.

Leeks with Lemon Dijon Vinaigrette
Serves 2 to 3 as a side [can be expanded—see Kitchen Notes]

3 leeks
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup chicken stock [or vegetable stock—see Kitchen Notes]
1/2 cup water
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Prepare leeks. Trim roots if overly long, but leave enough to keep bases intact. Slice off most of the green tops. Slice leeks in half lengthwise. Rinse under running water, gently fanning layers to wash out any trapped grit. Leeks like to grow in sandy soil, so you need to clean them carefully.

Heat a sauté or frying pan large enough to hold leeks in a single layer over a medium flame. Add oil and butter and swirl together. Arrange leeks in pan, cut side down, and sauté, turning occasionally with tongs and spatula, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Handle leeks gently when turning to keep as intact as possible.

Add stock, water and 1 tablespoon parsley to pan. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cover pan, cooking leeks until tender, about 10 minutes. Arrange leeks on a serving platter, cut side up. Add lemon juice and mustard to pan, whisking to combine. Season vinaigrette with salt and pepper [use a light hand with the salt and taste before seasoning—your stock will provide some salt]. Pour vinaigrette over leeks and sprinkle with remaining parsley. Serve immediately.

Kitchen Notes

Increasing servings. Two leek halves is a decent serving as a side. You can easily add a fourth leek to this recipe to serve four without upping the other ingredients, as long as they’ll all fit in one pan. If you get beyond the capacity of a single pan, you’ll obviously need to increase other ingredients accordingly.

Stock answers. First, the original recipe called for no water, just chicken stock. I feared it would taste like chicken leek soup, so I thinned the stock by mixing equal parts stock and water. If you want to make a vegetarian version of this, substitute a vegetable stock you’re happy with for the chicken stock.

And finally, this is a knife and fork dish. While delicate in flavor, leeks take more than the side of a fork to cut into bites and eat gracefully.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Esi February 4, 2009 at 7:19 am

I am so loving this recipe. I used to work at Williams Sonoma and would spend hours looking through the cookbooks. I NEED lots of pictures in a cookbook.

Laura February 4, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Oh this is definitely a favorite dish among the women in my family…not sure what issue the men have! I have a very clear recollection of my mom somehow making a version of this in a microwave when we were moving my sister into the last apartment she had in college. Delicious! Guess my mom’s years in France continue to exert a strong influence!

Carolyn February 4, 2009 at 4:54 pm

While on a diet, I learned to love leeks by placing them and carrots in a casserole dish, covering them with diet orange soda, and baking until tender. I then fantasized that I was eating sweet potatoes. Life is all messed up, isn’t it?

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) February 4, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Thanks for the reminder that leeks are for more than soup (pretty much the only way I use them). I’m always happy when I find the W-S cookbooks on the sale table at Costco!

Brooke February 4, 2009 at 11:58 pm

Love leeks, and these look lovely. I’m always looking for new ways to prepare them – I’ll have to try this. Thanks!

Mimi February 5, 2009 at 12:45 am

Oh, I’m so hungry right now (food is in the oven) that this is really making me salivate. So many of my favorite flavors!

Toni February 5, 2009 at 3:00 am

I adore leeks, Terry, and this recipe (and photo, of course!) makes my mouth water! The only question I’ve got is whether or not it’s possible to clean all the dirt out of the leeks if you leave the bottoms intact? Is there a trick to that?

Abby @ mangerlaville February 5, 2009 at 4:38 am

This just sounds like an amazing side dish, and a lovely photo of that. I love the combination with lemon and mustard, a few parmesean curls and I am in heaven.

Terry B February 5, 2009 at 4:40 am

Thanks, Esi. Williams-Sonoma cookbooks are particularly beautiful, aren’t they?

Laura—How elegant to be able to say “my mom’s years in France.” Wow.

Carolyn—The sad irony is sweet potatoes are loaded with amazing nutrition and have virtually no fat unless you add butter or marshmallows or…

Hi, Lydia! Yeah, I need to start checking the sale tables too.

Hi, Brooke. Thanks for stopping by!

So what were you fixing, Mimi?

Toni—I put gravity to work for me, angling the cut leeks down, root end up. That way, nothing could get trapped down at the root end.

Hi, Abby! I actually considered some Parmesan when I made these leeks, but I decided I wanted to let the sweet and bright flavors stand on their own. I might try Parmesan next time, though.

Kim, Ordinary Recipes Made Gourmet February 7, 2009 at 3:58 am

Terry, I LOVE LOVE LOVE leeks! I wrote an entire article called “My Love Affair with Leeks” and I always look for new ways to cook them. I used to didn’t like cleaning them, but when I split them lengthwise it really helped get through the layers to clean them. They taste so good and I use them in stir frying as well as in soups, now I’m going to make your dish!!! Yum Yum.. I have some cooking to do… :D

Sara February 7, 2009 at 2:02 pm

I love leeks, they’re one of my favorite vegetables. I have a recipe that I make quite often where the leeks are steamed and topped with a caper vinaigrette.

diva February 8, 2009 at 11:11 am

oh that’s really interesting that there were drawings of these in Egyptian archaelogical sites! :) i love leeks..maybe not so much the breath after but love them nonetheless…lovely looking dish Terry! x

Lauren February 8, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Always good to have another leek use in my bag of tricks – thanks! Your photo is also very pretty.

Terry B February 8, 2009 at 5:18 pm

Kim—Halving them really does make leeks easier to clean. Honestly, though, I’ve been lucking out lately; the leeks I’ve been getting haven’t been overly gritty.

Sara—Capers sound like a wonderful addition to leeks! A nice, bright touch to complement their mild sweetness.

diva—When our older daughter Claire was a mere toddler, she once insisted on eating all of the raw red onions from Marion’s salad when we were having dinner in a restaurant. At that age, babies have the absolutely sweetest breath, but that night, Claire’s was a mix of that sweetness and ONIONS!!!

Thanks, Lauren!

altadenahiker February 9, 2009 at 1:42 am

It’s raining forty days and forty nights here (or maybe four, I lost count) and could use a nice picture book.

Terry B February 9, 2009 at 3:23 am

altadenahiker—I know! It’s been relentlessly cold here for so long that, when it got up to about 60º yesterday, people were going nuts. I’d recommend a book about drought. Might make the rain look better.

Christina February 9, 2009 at 5:27 am

Absolutely lick-up-able.

Randi February 9, 2009 at 5:55 pm

I made this for dinner last night and not only was it pretty to look at but very tasty and a nice change from my usual way; which is a short braise and then quickly baked with ham and cheese.

blakeart February 12, 2009 at 2:07 am

I made this dish for another couple last saturday – as a compliment to a bit overblown marinated rib eye steaks… however the leeks tied the whole dinner together quite nicely. I butchered the presentation because I cut off the bottoms before I read to leave them on… so I was kinda P.O.’ed at myself – but the taste made up for it – they tasted like sweet onion Candy. They were savory and sweet – and they made the steaks and baked potato taste that much better. I’m gonna try the Scallops this weekend for Valentine’s day… thanks for the Recipe Terry! Awesome – this will become a staple for me.

darya April 9, 2009 at 12:28 am

What a fantastic idea! You actually inspired my boyfriend to try to make this tonight. Brava!

Zom G. August 5, 2010 at 2:49 am

Made this tonight and the flavor was fantastic! What a lovely way to treat a leek…thanks for the awesome recipe.

home recipes January 16, 2012 at 7:48 am

really simple and tasty recipe! Thank you so much!

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