Leeks with Mustard Vinaigrette

Ticka, ticka, tick, tick, tick…

I grew up eating leeks by themself and in things, and certainly in potato leek soup. I’d certainly love them: on their own, as poireaux vinaigrette, steamed to a degree of doneness best described as pleasantly comatose and then sent out on a platter, towing a gravy boat of vinaigrette closely behind. When I was a young boy in the south of France my sister and I used to fight over the sweet white part closest to the root. Yep, we actually seemed to know something about vegetable anatomy, much less cared enough to call dibs. I couldn’t believe how much I liked those leeks…

Leeks are harvested year-round here in Northern California, but I usually think of them as a cooler weather vegetable. (In the summer, if the temperature gets too hot, they can wind up with thick, woody cores.) They showed up at the farmers’ market here a few weeks ago, and I pounced on them. They’re still young and skinny, about the same diameter as a bottle cap, and they’re very sweet, which makes them ideal for simple preparations like leeks vinaigrette.

I’ve written this recipe with wiggle room on the quantities of vinegar and mustard, and you should feel free to tweak it to your liking. It’s hard to go wrong, and anyway, your vinegars, oils, and leeks may taste different from mine. Whatever you do, it’s important to use a good, strong Dijon mustard for this dressing. Keep in mind, too, that once a jar of mustard has been opened, it slowly loses its potency, so if you’ve had your jar for a while, you might want to invest in a new one. 

.2 to 3 Tbsp. white wine vinegar 1 to 2 tsp.

.Dijon mustard ¼ tsp.

.salt, or more to taste 

.6 Tbsp. olive oil 

.1 small to medium shallot, minced 

.2 lb. small leeks (about 7 or 8)

Optional garnishes:

 Finely chopped bacon Finely chopped hard-boiled egg

In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon mustard, and salt. Gradually whisk in the olive oil, mixing until emulsified. Taste. This dressing should be fairly bright, and the mustard flavor should come through, but not too powerfully. Adjust as needed with vinegar, mustard, and/or salt. When you’re happy with it, add the shallots, whisking to blend. Set aside. Be sure to taste it again later, just before tossing it with the leeks, so that if necessary, you can adjust it according to their flavor.

Lay a clean kitchen towel on the counter near the stove. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and salt it well. It should taste like sea water.

While the water comes to a boil, prepare the leeks. Trim away the hair-like roots, but take care not too cut in too far; you want the leek to stay intact. Cut off and discard the dark green leafy parts, leaving just the white and pale green stalk. Starting about 1 inch from the root end, so as to keep the white part intact, cut lengthwise down the middle of the leek. (If you were to splay the cut leek open, it should look like a stubby Y.) Wash the leeks well under running water, flushing any dirt from between the layers. Boil until they are very, very tender and yield easily to a knife. Their color will become muted, and they may be falling apart a little. That’s okay. To be sure they’re done, taste one: it should taste sweet, with no trace of raw flavor. The amount of time that this will take depends on their size, but it will probably take longer than you think. Ten minutes is a good bet.

Draining the leeks as well as you can, transfer them to the kitchen towel on the counter. Blot and press them dry. (Don’t burn yourself!) While they’re still hot, put them in a bowl, and toss them with a generous amount of the dressing. Allow to cool at least slightly before serving.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with more dressing spooned on top and a pinch or two of salt. If you want to make it a little fancier, garnish with bacon and/or chopped egg.

Yield: 3 to 4 servings (as a side dish or first course)

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