A winter vegetable to everyone’s liking – leek

Along with numerous other onion varieties, such as red onions or garlic, which are to be found all year round, leek possesses a sweet, somewhat delicate taste and nutritive value. To consider it one of the best green winter ingredients would be no understatement.

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Winter can be really challenging when it comes to finding quality and fresh seasonal ingredients. The selection is even more limited if you’re looking for green vegetables. But sometimes it’s the limited selection that holds the key to inspiration.

When preparing leek dishes, you can use all plant parts, whereas it’s very simple to recognise whether it’s fresh or not. When doing your shopping, it’s imperative that you avoid leek that’s not hard and crunchy enough when you touch it and the leaves should be green. When you’re on the market, don’t overdo it and buy large quantities given that it cannot be preserved for extended periods of time.

Not only will you easily use it to make countless meat dishes, soups, risottos, pasta, salads, but is also makes a fantastic ingredient if you’re eating a vegetarian and vegan diet. Leek falls within the category of vegetables that’ll be just as attractive when eaten raw, cooked or roasted. The shades of its green leaves combined with yellow and white will make you somewhat drab winter plates look lively and decorative. In order to explore leek’s culinary value, we recommend you try using leek instead of onion when preparing meals usually made with the latter. Leek’s rich flavour will refine any dish given that it’s not a heavy ingredient nor is its aroma as intense as onion’s.

In addition to being used in various dishes, leek is great when it comes to preparing casseroles with it as the main star. That way you can oven-roast it with goat cheese, olive oil and chopped pine nuts. If you’re really into Mediterranean cuisine, you’ll be blown away with oven-baked leek stuffed with blue-veined cheese, raisins and almonds. Julienned leek with ginger makes a phenomenal white meat marinade. You just need to boil the white meat and serve it in the marinade.

Croatian restaurants love leek just as much and they use it profusely. We’re sure that their dish selection will get you interested into paying them a visit. At restaurant Zora Bila in Split husband and wife Sandra and Dane Tahirović go to great lengths to make every plate a token of their love of gastronomy. Although not located in the city centre, their Zora Bila is very much famous. Sandra walked us through their leek dishes:

“We use leek quite often actually. It’s a must-have ingredient when preparing risottos or pasta. As an ingredient in its own right guest can try the leek cream soup and we also make smoked leek. First we place it into ash. When it’s done, we take out the central part. It’s served as side dish to meat together with chopped almonds and olive oil. Our cream soup is prepared by first slicing leek and potatoes into large chunks and then frying them in olive oil. Then we pour some Debit white wine and vegetable stock. The soup is cooked until it turns creamy. When it’s done, you just blend the vegetables. We never add flour or cream to the soup, but it can be served with bread croutons or you can grate some hard cow cheese on top, such as Parmesan or Grana Padana cheese.”

Leek is an indispensible ingredient on seasonal menus in Slavonia as well. Manager and head chef at the restaurant of hotel Grgin dol was just getting back from grocery shopping where she managed to get fresh leek for their kitchen. Their dishes are incredibly delicious or, as we should say, to die for:

“We use leek to prepare meat dishes, omelettes for breakfast, we sauté it in loin sauces. On top of that, we have a simple yet phenomenal leek salad. When we wash the leek, we chop it, add some salt and smetana. This salad is served with meat platters, grilled meat or Wiener schnitzel.”

At Grgin dol they let us in on a sea delicacy:

“We prepare mussels with leek. The mussels are prepared a la white buzara. First we chop the leek, we fry it in olive oil, whereas we pour white wine, mostly Kutjevo Welschriesling or Krauthaker, into the mussels. At the very end we add some parsley and breadcrumbs.”

At the family restaurant Baranjska kuća located in ethno village Karanac in central Baranja they make leek stew in addition to a large number of other traditional specialties. Owner Stanko Šrobo shared with us the recipe for Baranja leek stew:

“First we sauté chopped leek, carrots and potatoes and then we leave it all to be cooked. The stew is done once the carrots and leek are tender enough. The stew is served as a side dish to sautéed turkey or veal steaks and guest order it quite often.”