Coleslaw made with raw leeks, thinly sliced, with cucumber and radish for company and the lightest mayonnaise dressing. Vibrant and healthy!
Leeks, the Welsh and the Romans
Leeks are the benign alliums. Closely related to onions and garlic, they are much milder than their cousins, and they are of quite a noble status. Ancient Romans loved them, considering them better than onions, and Emperor Nero (who is seemingly being rehabilitated these days so I can quote his example with impunity) enjoyed leek soup as a voice-improving elixir.
Leeks are also the well-known Welsh symbol, going back to the 7th century when the Welsh fought the Saxons wearing leeks in their hats.
How to cook leeks
And they are such a good, dependable and cheap vegetable that grows well in Northern Europe!
Leeks are lovely cooked. You can make delicious creamy leeks, with lots of Parmesan and perhaps a few mushrooms. Leeks also go quite well with carrots (or so I’m told), braised until both are tender, seasoned with cinnamon and black pepper.
They can be cooked whole when new and skinny, and served as mock-asparagus, which is so much better than eating asparagus imported from the darkest Peru in the bleak mid-winter.
Leeks are also a good filler in all sorts of bakes and casseroles. Leeks, potatoes plus bacon for meat eaters or cheese for vegetarians; cheap and delightful as a winter warmer.
Leeks can convincingly pretend to be onions for people who are not keen on the largest allium: dice finely just the white part and use as you would onions. Leeks in soups - can I start gushing about my all-time favourite leek and potato?
And pasta plus leeks equals a winner any time and any pasta, especially al forno. There are leek tarts, quiches and flans - and possibly pizza, which I'd certainly experiment with if I didn’t live with the greatest pizza purist in the world.
Can you eat leeks raw?
But to have them raw? Most people would be seriously distrustful, as you would be towards a raw onion salad. But that's where leeks' mildness comes onto scene: they are really delicious raw, in a slaw (which incidentally means simply 'salad', from a Dutch word 'slo').
The preparation couldn't be simpler. Thinly sliced, they need to be tossed with salt and so sit for a while to macerate. Squeezing out the moisture gets rid of the sharp tang and stops the salad from being soggy.
I like to pair it with a milder companion like cucumber, also salted and squeezed, and radish, for a spot of vibrant colour and a crunch.
How to dress leek slaw
Dressing for slaw is usually mayonnaise but I like to lighten it up with buttermilk and season with lemon juice, honey and black pepper. And lots of fresh dill or mint, finely chopped.
It's surprisingly delicious and can be served like classic slaw: with fish, burgers, sausages or just an enormous, fluffy baked potato.