Sunday, September 12, 2010

Leeks in Mustard Dressing--Fall on the Table

Recently, I bought leeks for the first time since last winter. They are very much a fall vegetable. In Poland, leeks have been particularly popular as a salad vegetable during our long winters as they could easily be stored in a cold cellar together with potatoes, cabbage, celery, and various other tubers.

Today leeks are available the whole year around but to me they will forever be a fall vegetable and they really taste best during that season. Last week, I cooked them, took pictures, and planned to post this recipe some time later this fall, but in yesterday's Orangette post I read about a very similar leek dish that Molly makes, which prompted me to publish my recipe now. Perhaps some of you will compare which version is better.

I have known this recipe since my childhood, for more than 30 years. It came from our friend's French cousin. And since, at that time, only a limited assortment of vegetables was available in Poland, this creative way to serve our old good leeks became an instant hit in my parents' home. We made them often for Sunday brunches as accompaniment to cold cuts and ate them with fresh rye bread. Later, also some of my cousins adopted this recipe and recently I heard that it has become one of the most popular dishes at their friends' gatherings.

I still make them for fall weekend brunches in DC, but not so often any more. Nevertheless, these first "feels like fall" days always remind me about that dish and before spring comes back again I will make them from time to time.

There are a few tricks with preparing leeks. The most important is to wash them carefully because even if they are sold pre-washed, there can still be a lot of dirt between the leaves. For that reason I often cut them lengthwise in half to be able to clean them thoroughly. As Polish leeks had a very strong flavor, to neutralize it a bit, I added sometimes a spoon of sugar to a salted water in which I cooked them. In the original recipe, only white parts were used for that dish, but I always leave some of the green leaves, which have stronger taste but always find their amateurs.

I cook leeks in a shallow, but a very large pot. This way I do not need to cut too much of their length, and still manage to keep them all covered with water. For the dressing I use a good quality olive oil and French creamy mustard but not from Dijon, which I find too bitter for this purpose.

Perhaps, this is all I need to say about them. Please make them and enjoy their sharp and sweet taste.

Leeks in Mustard Dressing

4 medium size leeks,
3 tbsp mustard,
1 tbsp sugar,
1/3 cup mayonnaise,
2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar,
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil,
2 garlic cloves,
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

1. Cut off the "hairy" roots and about one-third of the green leaves.
2. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and wash them thoroughly to remove any residual dirt.
3. Cook leeks in salted water. It will probably take 20-30 minutes, but you need to check their softness. Cool them on a colander.
4. Make dressing: first mix mustard with sugar, add mayonnaise, and all the remaining ingredients, finishing with the squeezed garlic, and salt and pepper to taste.
5. Put the dressing on cold leeks. Let them marinate under the dressing for a couple of hours and serve.