“Eat, I pray you: will you have some more sauce to your leek? There is not enough leek to swear by.”
—Henry V, Act V. scene 1
Going by the above quote, it seems even Shakespeare had a thing about leeks. Next question is: what the hell are leeks? This is something I asked myself when, in my young manhood, I discovered this edible. Growing up in my family’s modest apartment in the projects, my mother had cooked with garlic, onions and scallions. But never leeks. We didn’t know they existed, although they are included in the onion and garlic family. Today I am an unabashed proponent of the lowly leek.
Leeks have been with us since the beginning of time. It was a staple in Ancient Egypt. Historians note that it was the favorite vegetable of Emperor Nero. He would eat them in soup or in oil. Nero fancied himself a great singing artist, and he believe that leeks would enhance the quality of his singing voice. The Leek (along with the daffodil) is one of the national emblems of Wales. It is said that when the Saxons invaded Wales in the 6th century, Welshmen wore a leek in their cap to identify them from the invaders least they be mowed down by friendly fire (i.e. arrows) from their own fellows. That being said, leeks taste great. They have a unique pungent flavor yet are milder and sweeter than an onion. I’m sure Welsh warriors loved dining on them as much as I do.
Below are given two easy recipes using this fabulous ingredient. Note that leeks have to be completely washed and cleaned, and you have to get at the dirt within the stalks. Once they’re cleaned, everything else is a snap.
CORNISH GAME HENS WITH LEEKS
Take 3 Cornish game hens (1 to 1 ½ pounds), split in half and coat with about 2 tablespoons of olive brushed over the birds. Season liberally with ground black pepper and oregano, and salt to taste. Tuck 1 or 2 crushed garlic cloves beneath the breast skin of each hen half. Take seven large leeks, white part sliced thin, and place the strips of leeks across the game hens. Place in a baking pan large enough to hold the hens. Top each hen piece with a pat of butter, and drizzle with a couple of splashes of dry white wine. Bake in a preheated 375 degree F. oven for 1 hour.
FISH FILLETS WITH LEEKS
Bake or steam four large fish fillets or 4 fish steaks seasoned with salt and black ground pepper. While the fish is cooking, take 6-7 large leaks and slice them lengthwise. Then a in a frying pan or skillet, sauté them in 2 tablespoons butter combined with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Mix in 6 sprigs fresh thyme and 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh basil. Transfer the cooked leeks with the herbs to a serving platter, place the fish atop the leeks, and serve.