Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pick the leek



I have decided to post some Greek recipes in my blog, for those who want to get to know the Greek cuisine a little better. As you can imagine, the list of the possible dishes is endless, but I will do my best to suggest recipes that I have tried myself, rather than simply stocked and never used, and I will emphasize on those which are authentic and typical of the Greek tradition.


I am a bit stressed about this, simply because we are all used to eating different things. As a result, our taste experiences are anything but similar, and something that I have grown to consider "classic", may seem too "exotic" and challenging for your taste buds. Also, I am by no means familiar with the ingredients available in the US, and I would hate to end up suggesting things that are impossible for you to find. But as we can never know right from the start how things will go, this is going to be a trial and error thing.


My first recipe post will be about the leek. I don't know if it is widely used in the US, but it has more than its fair share of recipe uses in Greece. Also, it is a favourite in my family, and a staple in the weekly shopping list.




The leek, onion and garlic all belong to the same family. Although it shares the same health benefits with its "cousins", unfortunately it doesn't seem to enjoy the latters' popularity. Its taste would be best described as a mix of onion and cucumber, while its smell is similar to the scallion.


This vegetable is thought to be native of Central Asia, but has in fact been cultivated in Europe for thousands of years. The Greek philosopher Aristotle attibuted his clear voice to the consumption of leeks, while the Roman emperor Nero was known to eat them daily, in order to make his voice stronger. The leek is also an important part of the Welsh tradition, and it serves as the country's national emblem. According to Welsh history, it had played an important role in their people's victory against the Saxons in 1620, as the soldiers placed leeks in their caps, in order to be easily distinguished from their enemies.



The leek is an excellent source of vitamin C, iron and fiber. It has been shown to promote the good functioning of the blood vessels and heart, increasing the HDL-"good" cholesterol levels, while decreasing the LDL-"bad" ones. As well as this, its use has been associated with a reduced risk of colon, prostate and ovarian cancer.


Leeks can be found throughout the year, but are mostly considered an autumn and winter vegetable. When buying them, it is best to choose the small, or medium-sized ones, as the large ones are more likely to be tough and woody. The root end should be unblemished, and the leaves should be fresh and green. Don't make the mistake of buying just the amount you need for a certain recipe - we've all been there, and have realised that, after the necessary trimming, you may end up with significantly less.



The edible portions of the leek are the white onion base and the light green stalk. However, some people may even eat the leaves - it is more a matter of personal preference and habit. When preparing them, you first need to remove any damaged or tired leaves. Then, trim the rootlets at the base, and cut off approximately half to two thirds of the dark green tops. After that, you can dice them or chop them, depending on the recipe and the way it is easier for you. Don't forget to rinse them well.


Leeks should be stored in the refrigerator, unwashed and untrimmed, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag, and they keep for up to two weeks. This is the right way to do it. However, due to the fact that I don't own an olympic dimension fridge, I like to cheat a little. I trim them, rinse them and then store them in an airtight container - this way they are ready to use anytime, and they fit inside, without having to get rid of half of my other stuff! Of course, they don't keep for two weeks this way, but they last until the end of the week or so. Leeks can also be frozen (I haven't tried it myself, because I don't own a freezer), for up to 3 months.






So, when in need to improve your voice for your next Pop Idol audition, prepare for one big or small everyday victory, boost your health, or simply taste something yummy, pick the leek! It is possible that you didn't think of it much in the past, but give it a chance... it may amaze you!


And, as promised, one Greek recipe using leeks. This one is meatless, but at least one more will be following soon, including meat. It is called "prasoryzo" (which means "rice and leeks" in Greek), it is healthy, vegan friendly, and can be perfectly accompanied with a chunk of feta cheese on the side. It can be used both as a main, and as a side dish.


Prasoryzo





Ingredients:

  • 1 kg (2 pounds) leeks
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 2 shallots
  • 2 bell peppers, preferably green
  • 3 very ripe tomatoes
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup white rice
  • lemon juice from 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation: 20 mins
Cooking time: 70 mins
Ready in: 1 h 30 mins
Servings: 4


Directions:
  1. Trim the leeks, cut them lenghtwise in quarters, slice them and rinse them well under running water.
  2. Dice the shallots and red peppers.
  3. Peel, core and chop the tomatoes.
  4. Fill 3/4 of a large pot with water, bring it to boil, and add leeks. Boil them for 5 - 10 minutes, then drain them and set aside.
  5. In the same pot, add the olive oil and sautee the shallots and peppers, until they are tender.
  6. Add the leeks, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Add as much water as needed, in order to cover everything (approximately 2 cups). Boil for 40 minutes, or until leeks are no longer crunchy.
  7. Finally, add the rice, cover and simmer for another 15-20 minutes, stirring occassionally (you may need to add 1 to 1 1/2 cups more water, to make sure that everything is covered).
  8. Just before serving, add the lemon juice. Enjoy!

I have no idea if this dish is too weird for you, but in Greece, it is an all-time classic. If you are intrigued and you want to try it, feel free to ask any questions, and of course, give your feedback. I hope you and your family like it!

9 comments:

  1. Ooooooooooh...that looks GOOOOD! We love rice...and the more veggies in it, the better! This one is definitely on my "to try" list! Thanks, Gracey!

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  2. You're welcome, Raoulysgirl! :)

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  3. This sounds yummy, I think I have only used leeks about 3 times. I liked it I just usually use onion instead.

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  4. Great recipe to start with, Gracey! Leeks and all of the other ingredients are widely available in the US. I can't wait to try this!

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  5. I left you an award, please come pick it up!

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  6. I have an award for you, as well! It's the same one...you only have to do it once, though!

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  7. Thanks, girls! You are so sweet! :)

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  8. Thanks for the award. I have really enjoyed your blog. You are so passionate about your food, and your writing is eloquent and smart. I can't wait to try this recipe. I might try it on my campervan stove here in NZ as it looks like a one-pot meal. Cheers.

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  9. Thank you so much for your kind words. If you try my recipe, I hope you like it. Have fun in NZ - of course I can't wait to read about it and look at pictures!

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