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]
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.
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.