I’m a slow learner. I realize now that my mother was well aware of this, and it must have been difficult for her, from a frustration end I mean. Were my education to begin today, I’d probably be labeled with one of the popular learning disabilities which seem to be so freely given out these days. At least, that’s the way I feel sometimes – and this is one of those times.
My latest confrontation with my own slow intellect involves my garden – and it seems to me that the garden is a really good place to come face to face with one’s intellectual failings, because it seems to have no end of opportunities to learn new facts – not that these new facts weren’t there all along, but somehow you just missed them. We slow learners are constantly coming upon these new facts – and the first thought that comes to me at such times is, ‘why in hell didn’t I realize that before?’
Of course, it’s also quite possible that these new facts were once well known to me, and just fell down that empty well of forgetfulness in the middle of your -excuse me, my- brain. But that’s just another element of my aforementioned learning disability – whatever!
So, what am I talking about? Leeks – that’s what. Leeks have always been one of my favorite members of the onion family. And strangely, although I love onions, and I use a billion or more a year (OK, an exaggeration!), I can’t grow the damn things in my garden. I don’t know what it is – an onion curse of some sort. No matter what I do, they never seem to bulb for me. But leeks are different – they do not get huge for me, but they’re usually big enough for use as an onion substitute or in any classic leek usage. And whenever I’d make something special, it was always impressive to say ‘I made it with leeks from my garden.’
But for all the many years I’ve been growing and enjoying things made with leeks, I’ve always cut off and thrown away the green parts. My cookbooks all seemed to be in agreement, they all said, ‘Use the white part only, discard the green end’. So that’s what I did. Not because I think cookbook authors are always right about everything – that’s not the way I think! But I’ve long thought that leek greens were tough and stringy – don’t know why, just did. Like I said, slow learner.
And then I saw something on a website. Can’t remember where (sorry!), but they simply said that leek greens made a very nice side dish when braised – and although they may not be as tender as scallion greens, they can be braised to tenderness. So I stuck the idea into my head and made a note to try this next time I did a leek dish.
And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this new fact was just another piece in the puzzle that had been putting itself together for some time now – and that puzzle is not even new to this blog – this is not the first time I’ve done a post on how much perfectly good and edible garden produce we simply toss away instead of using for our own or others’ benefit – look here. (Apparently, I’m discovering that leeks make great stock, but not yet that they can be cooked up as greens!) And here I discover that Brussels Sprouts actually sprout twice – with equally delicious result.
I think I learned this lesson well, for every spring now I watch all my winter garden greens, to catch them all at that precise moment when their tender seed heads are ready to pop open – that’s the perfect time to snip them off and quickly steam them for dinner.
And I remember too that the puzzle is multifaceted, for each gardening year, I learn more about plants I thought were just weeds, but now know that many of those too deserve to be picked in their prime and eaten along with their more cultured kin. And somehow, we gardeners are of the opinion that if the seed we use didn’t come in commercial packets, it isn’t worth planting. I had one of ‘those moments’ recently while watching a documentary on the Middle Ages when they mentioned in passing that every house in the village had a garden, and that just beyond the garden was the area of edible weeds! Well, guess what? Many of the seeds in those commercial packets got their start in a Middle Ages’ weed patch. Like leeks. I’ll betcha.
I grow leeks from seed which I start in my so-called greenhouse in Feb or March – then I transplant them into the garden in about June or July – there they sit right through the winter. I dig them any time they attained some size, but I have a slow garden (limited sun) and the leeks generally are still small come autumn – so I let them grow right through the winter, and the cold doesn’t seen to phase them – they may not grow much in winter, but they don’t lose any growth either – and come spring, they wake up and start getting downright chunky – mine don’t get huge, but they’re respectable size, sweet and delicious. What more can you ask from a leek?
Hey, let’s braise some leek greens – if you want, you can also add the white parts too, but I’ll assume that you’ve made some other dish with the white parts, and you’re left with the greens. So, first gather your tools and ingredients – you’ll need:
- a good sized heavy pot,
- about 4 cups or more of leek greens,
- a cup or more of chicken stock,
- a medium onion,
- 3 or 4 garlic cloves,
- and some olive oil.
Wash the leek greens well and chop them in pieces about 2 or 3 inches long – now wash and drain them again (leeks are world famous dirt collectors, and unless you take pains to wash them, you should enjoy eating sand.). Chop the onion in a medium mince, and smash the garlic cloves and peel and mince them finely. Now heat that heavy pot, and when hot, add 2 or 3 Tbs of olive oil (or more to taste) and the washed greens – let them begin to get brown before stirring, but don’t let them burn – after a few minutes of stirring, add the onions and garlic and the chicken stock – stir all in well and bring to a boil – now lower the heat to keep a simmer going, cover the pot, and allow the greens to braise for about 10 minutes or more (depending on how old and mature your leeks are!) – if they are not tender when you taste them, give them more time. Keep an eye on the amount of liquid in the pot – if it gets dry, add some water, not more chicken stock to avoid getting it too salty.
If you want to use the white parts too, just cut them into smaller pieces but don’t add them until after the greens have braised for 5 minutes or more – they are more tender and will cook more quickly.
Serve as a side dish, sprinkled with sesame seeds – or mix with some bow tie pasta to serve with fish or roast meets for something special.
Remember this next time you’re about to throw away that handful of leek greens.