leeks with wild garlic
Updated: Wed, 28 April, 2021
Wild garlic is brown bears' delicacy hence it is also called 'bear garlic' or 'bear leek' since like garlic and leeks it is a member of allium family.
What is wild garlic?
Wild garlic, bear’s garlic or ramsons (known as ramps in the United States) turns up in spring in woody, wet, marshy lands and down in the overgrown part of my garden. I’ll admit the latter is not that wild as I’d planted it a couple of years back so I should perhaps call it tame garlic.
The wide flat leaves, bright green or yellowing slightly if there’s not much sun reaching them, can easily be confused with lily-of-the-valley and other grass-like growth but I promise the genuine article will always be scarcer. And so strongly smelling of garlic you can't mistake it when you rub a leaf in your hand.
It is indigenous to Britain and I’m not entirely sure how common it is outside the British Isles. But considering it’s alternative name 'bear leek' I figure it must thrive in places where bears roam, as sadly there are no bears in the UK. Though if you go down to the woods today…
I treat wild garlic as I would a herb, adding to salads and meats or flavouring soups. This recipe features a matching pair of alliums: common leeks and bear’s leeks, and they complement each other in a harmonious way.
How to cook leeks?
The common mistake is to try and pretend they are not at all stringy or tough and to cook them whole: roast or braise. That's a mistake unless you have a bunch of very small, spindly and skinny leeks but then they will not have much flavour.
Fat and tall leeks much be chopped at least roughly. I don't believe in the other extreme either, of slicing leeks into paper-thin rounds so when cooked, they become a pulp. Slicing thinly is okay but only if you want to have your leeks raw, in a slaw.
They don't need a long time on the hob. As in the recipe below, I like to chop them thickly and start off over high heat, barely stirring, so they char and caramelise. A drop of honey added to the leeks is a good idea at this stage - to help the caramelisation. Once they soften a little, cream and/or soft cheese can be stirred in.
Creamy leeks should not be soupy so it's only a couple of tablespoons of cream they need. Blue, cream or any other soft cheese will help the dish thicken. And finally the seasonal ingredient - wild garlic, coarsely chopped, at the very last minute.
What to use instead of wild garlic?
Needless to say, you can cook leeks like this without wild garlic: out of its painfully short season or if no marshes or wet woodland are nearby. Instead add some fresh chopped dill or a bit of ordinary garlic and some chopped parsley.
leeks with wild garlicServings: 4Time: 15 minutes
- 3-4 large leeks, trimmed and washed well
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- salt and black pepper
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- a bunch of wild garlic, washed and roughly chopped
- 50g soft blue cheese (Danish Blue, Gorgonzola, Fourme d'Ambert)
- a squeeze of lemon juice
- 2 tbsp. double cream
1. Cut each leek in half lengthwise and then chop across into 3cm pieces.
2. Melt the butter with oil in a pan over high heat. Add the leeks, season with salt, pepper and the nutmeg and cook for a minute or two without stirring.
3. When they just start to caramelise at the bottom turn the heat down to medium and stir in the wild garlic.
4. Crumble in the blue cheese; add the lemon juice and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes on medium heat.
5. When they look wilted and softened, add the double cream, briefly bring it to the boil and transfer to a serving dish or individual plates.