Food magazines and online food publications are all about bright and green spring recipes right now, but I know that a lot of us are still waiting for that first asparagus to pop up, and for rhubarb to show its blush at the stores and markets. I’m checking in with one more transitional meal today, still cozy and hearty, but very vegetable-forward. There’s a step-by-step video, too :)
Have you ever tried braising or roasting whole leeks? It’s a revelatory way of preparing the vegetable, since leeks usually play a secondary role, where they get thinly sliced and pretty much disappear into whatever dish they are in. Cooking leeks whole yields surprisingly delicious results, and brings forward their sweet, mildly oniony flavor. The texture becomes incredibly buttery, and the modest vegetable becomes completely transformed.
One thing that makes me nervous about cooking with leeks is throwing away the majestic, green tops, since most recipes only call for the more tender, white parts of the leek. I always save the tops to include in homemade vegetable broth, and I suggest making a quick broth out of the tops and cauliflower stems here (although you can of course use store-bought broth as well).
The cauliflower and white bean mash is the perfect, hearty pairing to the braised leeks. It’s smooth and peppery, with a studding of fresh herbs throughout. Both components of the dish keep well and make for great leftovers. I can imagine the mash working well served with roasted carrots or grilled asparagus for another quick meal. Enjoy!
- 5-6 large leeks with long white parts
- 2 tablespoons neutral coconut oil or ghee
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- veggie broth - reserved from boiling green parts of the leeks or store bought
- 1 cup dried white beans - soaked overnight
- 3-4 garlic cloves - crushed with a knife
- 2 bay leaves (optional)
- one 2-inch piece kombu (optional)
- sea salt
- 1 tablespoon neutral coconut oil or ghee
- pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 large yellow onion - chopped
- 3 garlic cloves - sliced
- 1 small head of cauliflower - cut into florets
- leek broth from above or any veggie broth
- freshly ground black pepper
- handful each parsley and dill - chopped (optional)
- olive oil - for serving
- microgreens - for serving (optional)
- Cut the dark green parts off the leeks. Wash the green parts thoroughly and place into a large soup pot together with leftover cauliflower core and stems, cover with water. Bring to a boil over the high heat. Lower the heat to a simmer, add salt and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. You can also add any vegetable scraps you have on hand to this broth. Reserve the rest of the broth for the future use - refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 2 months. This step could be done the day before. You can of course skip this step entirely and just use store-bought or pre-cooked vegetable broth.
- Slice the white parts of the leeks in half vertically and place into the sink or a large bowl and cover with water. Let soak a bit and carefully wash all the dirt from between the layers.
- Warm the oil or ghee in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the washed and dried leeks to the pan face down in a single layer. Leave to cook undisturbed until golden on one side. Flip, add salt and pepper and let the other side caramelize.
- Add leek broth/any veggie broth to cover the leeks partially. Establish a strong simmer, cover the pan and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the leeks are tender throughout. Add more broth if too much evaporates. Reserve the rest of the broth for the future use - refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 2 months.
- Serve the leeks on top of the cauliflower white bean mash, below.
- While the leek broth and leeks are cooking, drain and rinse the beans and add to a large pot. Cover the beans with plenty of water, add garlic, bay leaves and kombu, if using, and bring to a boil, covered. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered. Start checking the beans for doneness after 30 minutes and continue to cook until tender, if necessary. Add salt at the last 10 minutes. Drain the beans and set aside. This step can be done the day before. The cooking liquid from the beans can be reserved and used as vegetable broth in other dishes, as well as frozen for up to 2 months.
- Warm the oil or ghee in a large saucepan over medium heat, add red pepper flakes, onion and a pinch of salt and cook for 7 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, until fragrant.
- Add cauliflower, a large pinch of salt, black pepper and the leek broth/any veggie broth to cover the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 7-10 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender. Add more liquid if too much evaporates to ensure that the cauliflower is being steamed. Add in cooked beans at the end, toss to warm them through.
- Add the cauliflower and beans to a food processor, along with a splash of the leek broth/any veggie broth. Process until smooth. Test for salt and pepper and adjust if needed. Add parsley and dill and pulse to incorporate. You may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of your food processor. Serve drizzled with olive oil and topped with the braised leeks from above.
2. Although kombu is optional, it's a great thing to throw into the pot when cooking beans, as it helps make beans more digestible, as well as contributes its minerals.