Saturday, April 2, 2011

What's not to leek?

I used to be afraid of leeks.  I mean, they're not an onion, they're not a starch . . . what are they?  I wasn't raised eating leeks.  And quite honestly, I didn't used to have anything to do with veggies I wasn't raised eating.  That includes artichokes, kale, arugula, turnips, parsnips, avocados (ok, I know, a fruit, but you don't see them in fruit salads, do you?), bok choi, broccoli rabe, escarole, and leeks. And, let me add here, I was raised in a veggie-eating family.  When I was little, my parents grew potatoes and corn and all manner of things in the backyard.

A few years ago I went through a kind of exotic fruits and vegetables phase.  I tried making all kinds of foods I'd never had before.  I made jicama slaw.  I got really into artichokes and avocados, and felt so enlightened.  Then I read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan (because three different friends told me I would like it) and he wrote about eating local foods and eating like my grandmother, of all people!  He had really convincing arguments about eating in a way that our earth could sustain.  And so I went back to the seasonal, local foods from our area that were easily obtainable.  And, hilariously, I re-embraced the Lancaster dishes I had scorned because they were all based on seasonal, local ingredients.  Go grandma!

But I did decide that I needed to explore some of the vegetables I had not explored in my exotic phase.  Vegetables that even my mom hadn't felt we needed to eat, like parsnips and turnips and leeks.  Now I can honestly say that I have made parsnips blend right into a chicken soup, and I have put turnips in a root veggie bake.  And I did buy a parsnip today at the rather limited spring farmer's market, left over from last year's harvest.  However, I would call either of those unassuming vegetables--in the words of Elmo--a "sometimes food."  

Leeks are another story.  The only thing I knew leeks went in at first was potato soup.  But someone told me they are also good in omelets.  And then I figured out that they can go anywhere an onion can go (if cooked).  And they add a little more flavor than an onion.  So when my nursing daughter couldn't tolerate me eating garlic, I started cooking everything with leeks.  The farmer's markets here were selling them into the winter.  And so the question for me is no longer, "What can I do with a leek?" but "What can't I do with a leek?"

The classic leek and potato combo--this time baked with just salt, pepper, & olive oil.

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