Melted Leeks

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It feels a bit like cheating to share this and call this a recipe. But it’s just so good – I can’t not share it and then deprive you of the deliciousness that is melted leeks. Have you ever had melted leeks? Because if not this should immediately go on your to-eat list. And if you have, maybe add it to the to-eat-again-soon list.

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I’m not big on making dishes repeatedly – it has to do with an unfortunate incident in my childhood involving chicken teriyaki multiple times a week (I still don’t like chicken teriyaki, or teriyaki sauce in general). It’s rare that I make the same exact component of a meal more than once in a month and even more rare that I make it at my own prompting rather than Jeff’s request to repeat a particularly delicious dinner. But in the last 20 days I have made these leeks twice and I am seriously considering making them again before the month is out. They are just that good.

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I will admit that I am a pretty big fan of cooking any member of the alium family in low heat for an extended period. The otherwise harsh and sharp flavors that you find in onions and garlic mellow after extended exposure to gentle heat and their sweet flavors really come to the front. But I never really thought to do this to leeks since their oniony-ness is pretty mild in the first place. The only reason I actually tried this recipe is I wanted the leeks to get soft and didn’t want to babysit a hot pan while it happened. Thank you confluence of random events! The softened leeks have all the wonderful savory-sweetness of roasted onions or garlic but take only a fraction of the time. And their inherent mildness means you can serve them with other delicate flavors (like fish or good quality tofu) and not overpower everything.

I am completely serious when I say the hardest part of this “recipe” is cleaning the leeks. They are sandy and dirty and harder to clean than just about any other vegetable. You really have to separate the leaves and run each one under cold water to get all the sand out. I do this the hard way, keeping the leaves intact at the bottom and gently peeling them back to wash all the sand out from in between. If I were less stubborn about presentation I would probably do it the easy way – cut away the bottoms completely and fully separate the leaves before washing so there is no need to be delicate since they’re already detached from the whole.

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Since the goal here is to get really soft leeks, you do have to cut off quite a bit of the leeks – about 6-8 inches of the green part is discarded and for an anti-food waster like me, that is a little hard to take. But those pieces will never get soft and tender when you braise them – at best they will be a little like wet leather; floppy but hard to bite through. Just save those ends to make stock and call it a day.

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Wilted Leeks

2-3 medium to large leeks
1 tbs butter
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ cup vegetable or chicken broth

Cut off the top 6-8 inches or so of the leeks and either discard them or freeze them for stock. Remove the outermost leaves of the remaining stalk and discard or freeze those as well. Cut off the small roots at the end of the leek, being careful to keep the stalk intact unless you want to separate the leaves. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise to expose the interiors while keeping the root intact. Wash carefully between each leaf, rubbing the leaves to remove any sand or dirt from the inside.*

Heat a wide skillet over medium-low heat and add the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the leeks, cut side down, and sprinkled with the salt. Pour over the broth** and cover the skillet with any pot lid that is large enough to cover all of the leeks. You can also cover the pan with foil to keep the steam from escaping.

Braise the leeks for about 15 minutes over medium-low to low heat. You want the liquid to steam but not bubble too much. After 15 minutes poke them with a fork to determine their softness. If you want them to be more wilted, simply continue to cook for another 10 minutes. After the leeks reach your desired done-ness, remove the lid or foil and let them cook until the liquid has evaporated. Keep the heat low so that the leeks will not brown or burn while the liquid evaporates. Serve the leeks immediately. You can also make them up to a week ahead and reheat them to serve.

*As noted above, leeks are super sandy. I generally wash mine twice to avoid any unpleasant crunching in the final dish.

** When I make stock, I often freeze some of it in an ice cube tray so that I have small amounts of stock ready for dishes like this. If you choose to do the same you can add two cubes, still frozen, to the pan. It only takes them about a minute to melt so you don’t have to add extra cooking time.

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