With the first nice rain of the year under our belt, the onslaught of wintery vegetables are beginning to emerge in greater numbers. From leafy greens and a host of cruciferous vegetables that include Brussels sprouts, broccolini and cauliflower, to dozens and varieties of root vegetables, our local farmers are continuing to plant and harvest through the seasons, rain or shine.
Also starting to take form this time of year is the winter version of onions: fresh leeks.
A member of the allium vegetable family, leeks thrive during the late fall and well into the winter and spring, delivering a flavorful presence reminiscent of garlic and onions all rolled into one.
The white base that grows below ground is considered to be the edible portion — ideal for adding to soups and stews, sautéing and used to flavor a broth for fresh mussels, or for tossing with seasonal vegetables. Leeks can also be enjoyed roasted and grilled.
This week I used a bunch of leeks to infuse flavor into a homemade beef stew. I made mine in the slow-cooker, but this can also be easily accomplished at a low simmer on the stovetop or in the oven at about 325 degrees.
You know the stew is ready when the meat is fork-tender.
Beef Stew with Fresh Leeks
1 bunch fresh leeks (about 3-4 medium sized leeks if sold loose)
2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/3 cup flour
8 celery ribs, diced
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2, 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes (or use fresh Roma’s diced)
3 medium Yukon gold, or similar, potatoes, cut into half-inch pieces
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon seasoned salt (add more. Later if needed to taste)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 bay leaves
Discard leek tops and roots at the base and cut into small rounds. Float leeks in cold water to remove sediment, then place them in the slow-cooker.
Brown meat in a hot pan on both sides in a little olive oil. Place meat in a mixing bowl and toss with flour. Add to the slow-cooker, along with all remaining ingredients.
Add enough water until you are about a half-inch away from the top of the ingredients. (As it cooks, the vegetables will break down and create more liquid). Mix, then cook on high for 4-5 hours or until the meat is fork-tender. Cooking time on a stovetop will be about 2 hours at a low simmer.
Yield: Serves 8.