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Versatile leeks add mellow flavor

Sometimes called the poor man’s asparagus, a leek is an onion without the crying and all of the flavor.

I say, make the switch to the leeks and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at exactly how versatile and delicious this sweet, onion-flavored vegetable can be.

When preparing a leek, you can keep it simple by slowly braising it or add some spices and herbs and pair it with other vegetables for a sweetly complex, subtle and mellow taste. The leek should not be considered merely a substitute for other vegetables; it’s hearty and delicious enough to complement any meat, chicken or fish you serve it with.

You should know up front, a leek is a dirt-magnet vegetable and will require lots of cleaning once you get to the prep part. The roots hang on to the dirt, but it also works its way into the leaves, much the way it does with onions. The best way to get rid of it is to cut off about a 1/3 of an inch off the bottom with the root attached. Then cut off the top part of the green stalks.

The ends of the leek are fibrous so you don’t want to try and cook them. The lighter green and white section of the stalk are what you want. The next thing is to cut the leek in half lengthwise. This is where you rinse and rinse again. Make sure to check the layers to get rid of all dirt.

The best part of using leeks is that they’re not just for fancy recipes and you can get them at a reasonable price all year-round. The following recipes will delight anyone who’s looking for that special something for a weekday meal.

Leek-Stuffed Salmon

1 whole salmon fillet, about 1 1/2 pounds

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

2 medium leeks, cleaned and chopped

Pinch of sugar

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Salt and pepper

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 tablespoon ketchup

1 tablespoon olive oil

Fresh dill

1/2 cup pine nuts or almonds, toasted

In a skillet, combine the butter and 1 tablespoon oil and heat until the butter melts. Add leeks, pinch of sugar and garlic and sauté over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are very soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat, season with salt and cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place whole fillet, skin-side down, on a large cutting board. Slice the filet almost in half length wise but not all the way through; just like you were slicing a hot dog bun. Place a piece of parchment paper on a rimmed cookie sheet. Place the sliced filet on top. Pull back the top of the cut filet.

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, lemon zest, ketchup and remaining olive oil and whisk to combine. Brush 3/4 ’s of the mixture over all the sides of the salmon. Spread the leek and garlic mixture over the bottom layer of salmon and then place the top layer on top of the filling. Spoon the remaining 1/4 of the sauce over the top of the fish. Bake for about 16 to 18 minutes or until the salmon is firm to the touch. Remove from the oven, let cool 4 or 5 minutes and place on a serving platter. Garnish with dill and toasted nuts. Serves 4. This recipe can be doubled or tripled.

Leek Frittata

4 medium to large leeks, well rinsed, dried, sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

6 eggs

1/3 cup plain yogurt or milk

Pinch dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup shredded Pepper Jack cheese

Parmesan cheese for dusting the top

In an oven-proof skillet, sauté the leeks in 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil until they become soft and start to brown. Remove the leeks and set aside. Don’t clean the pan. Preheat oven to broil. In a bowl whisk together the eggs, milk, oregano, rosemary and salt and pepper. Add the leeks and whisk to combine. Melt the remaining butter in the pan and add the olive oil. Pour in the egg leek mixture into the hot pan and cook, over a medium heat, for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the shredded pepper jack cheese on top. Place the pan under the broiler and broil for 2 to 3 minutes or until the frittata puffs ups and becomes golden brown. Remove immediately and sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese. Cool for 2 to 3 minutes, then cut into 6 wedges and serve.

Leek and Potato Soup

4 large boiling potatoes, peeled and quartered

2 large leeks, cut in half, cleaned and sliced into long, thin strips

4 cups (1 quart) water

1 cup buttermilk or 1 cup plain yogurt

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup minced parsley

1/2 cup minced green onions or chives

1/4 cup minced dill

In a large saucepan, combine the potatoes, leeks and water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 to 40 minutes until the potatoes are soft. In a blender or food processor or with an immersion blender, puree the soup. Add the buttermilk or yogurt, and heat the soup slowly over low heat, uncovered, until just warmed through. Season with salt and pepper. Add the parsley, green onions and dill. Mix to combine. Serve hot or cold. Serves 4.

– Submitted by Reggie Bantsky – Modified from “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon – Modified from “Almost Vegetarian” by Diana Shaw Slice of Life is a food column that offers recipes, cooking advice and information on new food products. It appears Sundays. If you have a question about cooking or a food item, contact Eileen Goltz at ztlog@verizon.net or write The Journal Gazette, 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802.

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