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Leeks an affordable veggie for fall dishes

Every fall I start looking for a fresh vegetable to serve that isn’t connected to the cauliflower, Brussels sprout, acorn squash or sweet potato.

I can’t afford the out-of-season asparagus for my family (it’s almost as much as my property taxes) and broccoli is just too prosaic and almost as expensive. This year my friend and I were talking about this very topic when one of us came up with the idea of trying to add leeks to our already overabundant menu.

While I’ve heard leeks called the “cheaters asparagus,” they are truly a standout vegetable in their own right. They can be eaten raw (they need to be cleaned and sliced thin as they are fibrous and can be tough), roasted or braised as a side dish, or as a subtle sweet and tangy onion-like flavor addition to any recipe. You only use the white and light green parts of the stalk for cooking.

My suggestions is to never buy more leeks than you’ll need to use as their storage life is not so great (I say no more than a week in the fridge).

Leeks are what I call dirt-magnet vegetables. They have to be cleaned thoroughly as the stalks can be full of dirt and sand. You start by removing the outer layer of white leaves and trimming the base with a sharp knife to remove the roots. You want to keep the bottom in tact but make two perpendicular incisions up the middle of the stalk toward and through the end of the green tips. Spread the stalk and leaves open and wash under cold running water. Drain, check for more dirt, rinse again just to make sure.

The following recipes are great for any meal and especially when you want to impress your guests with something really special on the menu.

Leek and Wild Rice Casserole

2 green peppers, chopped

4 stalks of celery, chopped

1/4 cup oil

6 leeks, cleaned and chopped into 1/2 -inch pieces

2 cups tomato juice

2 cups cooked wild rice

Salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet sauté the green pepper and celery in the oil until they are soft but not mushy. Add the leeks in just enough boiling water to cover the vegetables. Cover and simmer 5 minutes. Add the tomato juice and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the cooked rice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer about 10 minutes or until the leeks are tender. Serves 4 to 6. This recipe can be doubled or tripled.

Pacific Rim Grilled Leeks

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon spicy mustard

1 tablespoon minced onion

1 large clove of garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 leeks, split, trimmed and cleaned

Sesame oil

In a jar with a tight lid combine the olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, mustard, onion, garlic and red pepper flakes. Shake to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper then set aside. Heat the grill or grill pan. While the grill is heating, brush the leeks lightly with sesame oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Grill leeks, turning occasionally, until lightly browned all over, 7 to 12 minutes. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the leeks just before serving. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Serves 4.

Mushroom Rice and Leek Soup

1/4 cup butter, olive oil or margarine

4 to 5 medium leeks, washed and chopped

1 1/2 to 2 pounds mushrooms, sliced thin

1 cup white wine

3 to 4 cans (14 ounces) vegetable or chicken broth

1 cup rice

Chopped green onions or chives as garnish

In a large saucepan melt butter and sauté the leeks (stirring frequently) for about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté another 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook 1 minute. Add the broth and simmer 2 minutes. Add the rice, mix to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve topped with green onions. Makes about 8 cups.

– Modified from Gourmet, November 1998, and submitted by Ron Greffard of Chicago Slice of Life is a food column that offers recipes, cooking advice and information on new food products. It appears Sundays. If you have a question about cooking or a food item, contact Eileen Goltz at eztlog@gmail.com or write The Journal Gazette, 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802.

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