Thursday 23 September 2010

Salad of Warm Baby Leeks with Blue Cheese and Chilli Croutons

The French refer to leeks as l'asperges du pauvre, or 'the asparagus of the poor', and it's not difficult to see why. Young leeks braised to a melting softness in olive oil and water are delicious, and every bit as tasty, in my book, as asparagus.

Salad of Warm Baby Leeks with Blue Cheese and Chilli Croutons. If you're on a
low-carb regime, leave out the croutons or use my halloumi croutons instead.

For this salad, baby leeks are simmered whole in water, with a little olive oil and some herbs and garlic. By the time the water has evaporated, the leeks are as tender as a mother's love. They are then left to colour and caramelise slightly in the remaining oil, and served warm with crumbled blue cheese and croutons. If you're on a low-carb regime, leave out the croutons!

I came up with this salad last week when I pounced on a big punnet of very beautiful baby leeks. Some I used to add a bit of pep to this dish of smoked tuna, and the rest went into this salad. These are best warm, but you can serve them piping hot (in which case add a little butter to the pan just as you finish frying them).

You can omit the chilli powder, if you like, but it does add colour and a little kick to the crunchy topping. The croutons should be crumbled over the salad at the very last minute to prevent them from losing their bite. A frying pan is essential, as the large surface area helps the water to evaporate quickly.

I've recently adapted many of my recipes to suit my low-carb, diabetic diet, and if you're following a similar regime, I suggest you either leave out the croutons, or replace them with gorgeous halloumi-cheese 'popcorn'.

Finally, use a mild, creamy blue cheese, not a sharp one that will overwhelm the delicate taste of the leeks. I used Fairview's Blue Tower, a rich Gorgonzola-style cheese with a good crumbly texture. (Disclosure: this cheese was part of a consolaton prize I received after this recipe was a finalist in Fairview's Food Bloggers' Competition.)

Salad of Warm Baby Leeks with Blue Cheese and Chilli Croutons

30 baby leeks, topped and tailed
4 tsp (20 ml) olive oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled
a large sprig of fresh thyme
4 Tbsp (60 ml) white wine
salt and milled black pepper
water or vegetable stock, to cover
3 Tbps (45 ml) lemon juice
1 x 100 g wedge creamy blue cheese
a little extra olive oil, for drizzling

For the croutons:
4 slices white bread, crusts removed
4 Tbsp (60 ml) vegetable oil
a pinch of chilli powder (or more, to taste)

Put the leeks, olive oil, whole clove of garlic, thyme and wine into a large frying pan and season with salt and pepper. Add enough water to just cover the leeks, and bring to the boil. Now turn down the heat and cook, uncovered, at a fairly brisk bubble for 20-30 minutes, or until all the water has evaporated. Allow the leeks to colour slightly in the oil remaining in the pan (but don't allow to burn).

While the leeks are braising, make the croutons. Heat the vegetable oil in a small pan. Tear the bread into little tatters and fry in the hot oil, tossing once or twice, until they are a rich golden brown. Drain on a piece of kitchen paper and sprinkle with chilli powder and a little salt.

Arrange the leeks on a platter and pour over the lemon juice. Top with crumbled blue cheese, and drizzle with a little more olive oil. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Using your fingers, roughly crush the croutons and scatter them over the salad.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a starter or side dish.

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Nina Timm said...

"the leeks are as tender as a mother's love" - beautifully said Jane. I love this idea a lot. We should think of one day cooking together, I think it could be fun!!!

Marisa said...

Was just about to say the exact same thing as Nina re the "mother's love" bit. But now I just look like a copycat. Oh well.

Salad looks gorgeous - leeks are so underappreciated, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

God that looks spectacular. Yum.

Barbara @ Modern Comfort Food said...

Oh, you have a wonderful site, Jane-Anne, with beautifully tempting recipes galore! Your use of baby leeks and Blue Tower here brings back fond memories of my years in South Africa. Unfortunately, we can't get tiny leeks here in steamy, sweaty Florida, but only the big whoppers. Nuts!

Steve said...

Finally found leeks that were at least teen-aged, and made this for a veggie lunch yesterday. It's a seriously sensuous dish: the Blue Tower and the reduced wine from the braise melt into a wonderfully sticky, cheesy sauce, with the crunch and bite of the croûtons a perfect contrast.

I ignored the "mother's love" cooking direction - mine was strictly Tough Love, at least until 4pm and her first cup of Earl Grey with a stiff shot of Red Heart.

Obligatory kitchen geekery: dry out soft, moist white bread in the microwave for a few minutes before frying. Helps reduce oil suckage, and keeps the croûtons light and crispy.

Anonymous said...

you used one of my favourite cheeses for this recipe :) Lovely recipe!

Joanne said...

I love the almost buttery flavor of leeks and it must pair so well when pitted against the tangy blue cheese. Beautiful balance of flavors!

polkadotcupcake said...

Mmmm saw the baby leeks in the shop, and wondered what to do with them :) Leeks are so delightful, and with blue cheese? Om nomnom..

PinkPolkaDot said...

This looks scrumptious!! You have a beautiful blog!