With its mild onion flavour providing the base in so many regional dishes, Tom East reckons we should start celebrating this humble veg.
Creamed leeks are always a highlight of a Sunday roast, the sweet, tender and ever-so-slightly mushy strands of the onion’s elegant cousin enveloped in a béchamel sauce are such a comforting treat that you’ll want to save a spoonful for the end.
You’ll often find leeks in side dishes, or providing sweet notes in a stock or a stew, but the humble veg can still be a star. Indeed, this member of the allium family is celebrated in many parts of Britain; the most obvious being Wales where it became a national icon after King Cadwaladr’s army fought off Saxons with leeks strapped to their hats.
There are no tales of King Edwin of Northumbria sporting a leek on his head, but steamed leek pudding is a famous regional dish from the North East. The leeks are either stewed in a cream sauce before being spooned into a suet pastry case or mixed in with the dough and steamed. Either way, the resulting pud is great with a roast as the suet crust soaks up juices from the meat and gravy. You can also add bacon, herbs and mustard powder to add flavour to a dish that a MasterChef contestant once wowed Gregg Wallace and John Torode with.
Later in the year, when leeks come back in after having some time off in the spring and early summer, you might want to try them in a tart with Dorset Blue Vinney or even griddle baby ones. Right now, though, we need warming dishes to get us through the cold months and this is where leek comes into its own, adding its mild, sweet oniony flavour to a hearty cock-a-leekie soup, one of Scotland’s most famous dishes.
You can also pair leek with salty ham and chicken in a puff pastry topped pie or try a lightly spiced curry made with peppers and more spuds, a leek’s BFF. If you want quicker winter warmers, stir buttered leeks and cheese into pasta or a risotto.
Leek, pepper and potato curry
The classic Indian dish Dopiaza translates as ‘two onion’. Not sure what two leeks are, but there’s plenty of them in this curry, and they work overtime to both thicken and sweeten the sauce. It serves two with plenty of leftovers.
2 red peppers, sliced thickly
2 leeks, sliced thickly
2 onions, sliced
400g baby potatoes
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds, ground
1⁄2 tsp turmeric
2 green chillies, chopped
400g tin chopped tomatoes
200ml vegetable stock
1. Prepare the potatoes, cutting bigger ones in half, and leaving smaller ones whole. Cook in a pan of boiling water until just done.
2. Slice the red peppers thickly and cut each slice in half. Slice the leeks and onions, and chop the chillies.
3. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, grind the cumin seeds and add them to the pan along with the mustard seeds until you can hear them popping. Next, add the onions, leeks, chillies and peppers and stir-fry for around 8 minutes until tender.
4. Add the tomatoes and stock to the pan and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes. Then add the potatoes and continue cooking for another five minutes until you have a nice, thick sauce.
Serve with naan bread.