Green, garlicky and fresh, wild leeks are native to forests of the eastern United States and Canada and are at their peak for a short time in the spring. If you plan to seek out these tiny, flavorful herbs, be sure to take only a very small number (one shovel full!) from the outer edges of the patch. This ensures that there will be more to enjoy for years to come.
For this recipe, if using cultivated leeks, you will need one (or two if small). Trim away root end and dark green leaves, split in half lengthwise, clean under cool running water, drain and pat dry. Cut one of the halves in half lengthwise and set the long piece of leek aside to garnish the loaf pan. Chop and measure the remaining leek and use in place of the wild leeks in the recipe. MAKES 1 LOAF
• 1⁄3 cup chopped wild leeks (save 6 whole, with leaves, for garnishing the top)
• 2 cups vegetable stock
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 1⁄2 cups couscous
• 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
• 1 onion, chopped
• 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
• 4 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 tablespoon Asian Five-Spice Seasoning
• 2 teaspoons ground coriander
• 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
• 1 small zucchini, diced
• 8 ounces mushrooms, chopped
1. Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap, letting it overhang on the long sides. Lay two wild leeks on the base of the pan; set aside in a cool place. Set aside remaining whole leeks to use as garnish.
2. In a saucepan, bring vegetable stock to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and stir in salt and couscous. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and transfer to a large bowl.
3. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion and red pepper for 6 minutes, or until soft. Add garlic, Asian Five-Spice Seasoning, coriander and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Add remaining oil and cook the zucchini and mushrooms for 7 minutes, or until soft. Let cool.
4. Add the onion-mushroom mixture to the couscous. Cover and chill for 1 hour. Press the mixture into the tin, gently pressing it in and around the leeks on the bottom of the tin. Fold the plastic wrap over to cover. Weigh down with food tins and chill for 2 hours or as long as overnight. Serve warmed or at room temperature with Herbed Tomato-Leek Sauce.
To warm chilled loaf: remove plastic wrap and return loaf to the loaf pan. Cover the top of the pan with foil and heat at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until warmed through.
Because leeks, or ramps as they are often called, grow in moist and well-rotted deciduous forest litter, they must be dug out of the humus (don’t try to pull out by the leaves—you will only snap them off). As such, cleaning them takes a certain knack. Here’s how: Grasp the leek just above the bulb end. Pull the short, dirty outer layers of white skin back over the roots. Snap off the rootlets along with most of the dirt. Wash bulbs with leaves still intact in cool running water. Drain and dry. Use both green leaves and white bulb in recipes.
Author of 12 cookbooks including her latest, Everyday Flexitarian (Whitecap Books, 2011), Pat Crocker is a culinary herbalist and green cook.
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