Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Way to Cook a Childhood Favorite: Leeks

Remember when you were forced to eat yucky foods that tasted weird and had bizarre textures? Like spinach casserole with hard boiled egg on top (I swear, I'm not making that up), or lima beans that had bits of the word "Birdseye" and little pieces of foil attached to the freezer-burned nuggets?

Lately I've been thinking about foods I ate as a kid. Ironic, since my sister has also been reminiscing about childhood favorites. She recently wrote about not one but TWO foods from our past. But while she's focusing on the sublime (artichokes) and the inventive (Chicken Lizzie), I turn my thoughts to leeks. Yes leeks, those long oniony things with the tough green ends that kids the world over love. At least this kid.

Around the corner from my dad's old place in New York was a restaurant that had two of my Favorite Dishes Ever. Leeks vinaigrette and celery remoulade. I recall going to Les Pleiades almost every week, but I can't guarantee my memory is correct. You'll have to consult a sister for that. I do know that we started eating there when I was eight, and as it closed almost 20 years ago, it's been quite some time since I've had leeks vinaigrette.

What I loved about the leeks were that they were soft and mild and had a comforting texture in my mouth. And they were submerged in vinaigrette. I don't know why, as an 8 year-old, I was so taken with vinegar. But I could've bathed in it.

The celery remoulade baffles me, especially since I normally didn't care for celery. This dish wasn't stringy, though, so I'm guessing they used celery root. The pieces were hard, crunchy and slim, cut julienne, and smothered in remoulade sauce. The main component of the sauce is mayonnaise, so that's a no-brainer.

Les Pleiades from my memory was ultra swanky. My dad was a regular and always sat at the same table. Every time I walked in, Pierre would look overjoyed to see little ol' me. I felt like a rockstar. Dining with Pele helped (true story!), and denizens of the art world and CEOs from large media companies probably didn't hurt either. At other tables were usually an actor or two hanging out, maybe a model, a politician. Anyway, at 8 years-old all I knew was that I loved the vegetables. As far as I remember, my father had no problem with me eating a plate of vegetables for dinner.

"I'll have the leeks vinaigrette and the celery remoulade, please."

"Of course, Mademoiselle." weird kid.

Last week when I was writing about soups for Patch, I was all set to make Leek and Potato soup with the ingredients I had bought the day before. Then it hit me: Remember those leeks from Pleiades? I consulted Julia, and sure enough, on page 298 of "The Way To Cook" was a recipe for braised leeks. Screw the soup.

They came out heavenly. After braising in chicken stock and butter for 30 minutes, the result is a creamy texture, followed up by a sweet and mellow flavor. I mixed up a little vinaigrette and poured it over the leeks. I can't believe it took me over twenty years to figure out I could make them myself. The only problem was that my husband was eating some, too. No worries. Like any eight year-old, I simply ignored him and demanded more.

Braised Leeks (adapted from Julia Child's "The Way to Cook")
serves one selfish person, or two normal people

6 large leeks
Chicken broth
Salt & freshly ground pepper
2 or more T butter

Heat oven to 350.

Trim the root ends of the leeks, being careful to keep the leaves attached. Cut off the tops to leave the leeks 6 to 7 inches long. Slit each lengthwise, and carefully wash thoroughly under cold running water, removing all the dirt.

Arrange the leeks, cut side down, in a buttered baking dish. Pour enough broth to come halfway up the leeks. Salt & pepper lightly and dot with a tablespoon of butter.

Cut a piece of wax paper to the same inside proportions as the baking dish. Butter one side and lay on top of the leeks. Cover all with tin foil. Bake for 35 minutes in the oven. When done, remove the foil and paper and let cool slightly. Serve with a healthy dose of your favorite vinaigrette.


  1. I think we will have to have leeks tonight!!!

  2. Yes, that was definitely celery root for the remoulade. I want some.

  3. Celeriac Remoulade is on page 376. To be continued...

  4. Yummy! These look great...I haven't had leeks as a side dish in a long time. I need to give this a try! :)

  5. Boy were they yummmmy. Had them last night.

  6. Glad you liked them -- they're a new family favorite around here!