Thursday, April 26, 2012

Braised Leeks Mexican (ish) Style

Plate of Braised Leeks with Lime and Tomatillo Salsa
Serve Hot or Cold

Recipe adapted from Mexican Everyday

Three weeks of leeks, and then some! Leeks are one of our CSA’s most prolific crops, week after week, and their size requires considerable real estate in the refrigerator. They typically need to pair with other veggies, as in Potato Leek Soup, or with meats or rice. They’re not like broccoli, chard, or carrots. You can’t use up mass quantities of them by simply steaming. My attempts at baking them in various ways have failed: witness the cheesy leek bake. Leeks keep piling up, week after week. Clearly I’m not doing a good job of what my friend Barbara (hi, Barbara!) calls “refrigerator maintenance.”

Basket of 3 Bunches of Leeks
Inspiration to Find a Leek Recipe
“Don’t fear the leek,” I told myself, and remarked to my husband that we needed to do something with them pronto. He checked his latest cookbook acquisition, Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless. I thought that the chances of finding a recipe for using mass quantities of leeks in a Mexican cookbook slightly less than zero, but I held my tongue. Lo and behold, Bruce found a variation on Green Bean Salad that featured leeks with no other vegetables in the “Salads and other Easy-to-Make Sides” section. I liked the easy-to-make idea.

The original recipe called for braising the leeks in “a little chicken or vegetable broth, lime juice and salt till tender.” With the type of broth I used (Not-Chick’n), salt wasn’t necessary. Rick Bayless also said to cool the leeks and serve with them with high quality, pre-made tomatillo salsa. We found that the leeks were great warm from the pan as well. The “medium” salsa I bought was quite hot and spicy, but the taste worked surprisingly well with the leeks. Next time I’d find a milder salsa though. During tomatillo season (summer) I’d even try making some.

Leeks in Pan, Broth, Limes, and Salsa
Cut Leeks to Size that Fits in your Pan
Those who know leeks know that they’re a dirty vegetable. Using them whole requires particular vigilance in cleaning them. You have to look down into the leaves to assess the dirt content. This can result in tearing the leaves, so it’s a balance of washing out all the dirt and not tearing the leaves too much, so the dish still looks good. If there is any question about whether dirt is present, remove the entire green leaf down to the white base and it will look and taste good. Whole cooked leeks have a plump and enticing texture, unlike leeks cut in half lengthwise before braising, which are flaccid and boring (learn from my mistakes!). So avoid the temptation to cut them, even though it’s lots easier to clean them cut in half.

Save your braising liquid! The lime-leek-broth combination is great for braising fava beans, or perhaps string beans and other veggies.

We served these with decidedly not-Mexican baked chicken and a green salad. If you have any ideas for using this side dish with other Mexican foods, please share a comment.

Platter of Leeks with Salsa and Lime on the Side
Hot Leeks with Lime and Salsa
Leek Salad, or Braised Leeks
serves ~ 4 

9 medium leeks (3 bunches)
1 cup Not-chick’n or other broth
2 tbsp. fresh squeezed lime juice
Tomatillo salsa for garnish
Fresh lime wedges for garnish

Trim roots off leeks. Remove withered outer leaves and trim tops to fit in pan. Wash out all dirt, peeling back leaves from top. If there is any question that a leaf might have some dirt under it, peel it back or remove it before cooking. Rinse thoroughly.

Lay leeks in a single layer in electric frying pan. Pour broth over leeks. Add lime juice and stir around.

Cover, bring liquid to boil and braise at a gentle simmer till very tender. This will take 10 – 15 minutes. After about 7 minutes, when leeks are half-done, turn them over to submerge the opposite side in the liquid.

Remove leeks to serving plate. Serve hot, at room temperature, or chilled, with lime wedges and spicy or mild tomatillo salsa.

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