Thursday, April 1, 2010

Leek and Mushroom Risotto

Henry V. Act I, Scene I. France. The English camp.

I say, I will make him eat some part of my leek, or
I will peat his pate four days. Bite, I pray you; it
is good for your green wound and your ploody coxcomb.

Must I bite?

Yes, certainly, and out of doubt and out of question
too, and ambiguities.

By this leek, I will most horribly revenge: I eat
and eat, I swear-

Eat, I pray you: will you have some more sauce to
your leek? there is not enough leek to swear by.

Quiet thy cudgel; thou dost see I eat.

Much good do you, scauld knave, heartily. Nay, pray
you, throw none away; the skin is good for your
broken coxcomb. When you take occasions to see leeks
hereafter, I pray you, mock at 'em; that is all.

As we see from this heated exchange between the Welsh Fluellen (speaking in the politically incorrect, comic dialect assigned him by our favorite early modern playwright) and the English Pistol, not everyone is a born lover of the allium ampeloprasum. Which is a pity, since the leek is a fascinating vegetable with a noble heritage; as one of the national emblems of Wales, it is traditionally worn, along with the daffodil, on St. David’s Day, celebrated annually on March 1. Legend has it that this association stretches back to the 7th century, when King Cadwaladr ap Gwynedd ordered his soldiers to wear the vegetables in their helmets to commemorate a military victory over the Saxons, which happened to take place in a leek field (hey, it's no sillier than the Plantagenets being named after a penchant for sporting yellow flowers, right?). Shakespeare even has Henry V, the hero of Agincourt, admit to rocking the leek on "St. Davy's Day," in honor of his ancestor, Owain ap Maredudd ap Tewdwr: "I wear it for a memorable honour,/ For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman."

Beyond its roles as cultural signifier and fodder for Elizabethan ethnic jokes, the leek has a long and illustrious culinary history. According to Wikipedia, "dried specimens from archaeological sites in ancient Egypt, as well as wall carvings and drawings...[indicate] that the leek was a part of the Egyptian diet from at least the 2nd millennium B.C.E. onwards." Furthermore, "surviving it had been also grown in Mesopotamia from the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C.E.," and "the leek was the favorite vegetable of the Emperor Nero, who consumed it most often in soup." But wait - if the endorsement of a ruler whom the Roman historian Suetonius described as having "...a body marked with spots and malodorous, his hair light blond, his features regular rather than attractive, his eyes blue and somewhat weak, his neck over thick, his belly prominent, and his legs very slender" isn't enough to convince you, consider that leeks are also a good source of manganese, vitamin C, folate, iron and vitamin B6.

Perhaps more important than all these things, however, is the fact that they are yummy. Leeks are closely related to garlic, onions, shallots and scallions, and while delicious when used in any recipe calling for those vegetables, they have a special character all their own. In our culture, they are most often found in dishes like potato-leek soup, but they are also lovely when roasted, in tofu quiches or scrambles, and in recipes like the one below (you were wondering when I'd get to the point, weren't you?). Risotto gets a bad rap for being labor and time intensive, but it's actually very simple - all you need is the right type of rice, a little patience, and about 30 minutes when you can stand at the stove, holding a wooden spoon and drinking a glass of wine. That doesn't sound too difficult, does it? So don't wait until next St. Davey's Day to pick up some leeks, some mushrooms, and a jar of Arborio rice, and within an hour you'll have a meal that could be proudly served to Cadwaladr, Henry V, and Nero - now that would be an interesting dinner party!

Leek and Mushroom Risotto
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 2 large leeks, cleaned, sliced in half lengthwise and chopped
~ 1 10 oz. package mushrooms, sliced
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 2 tsp. tarragon
~ A few healthy grinds of black pepper
~ 1/2 cup plain, usweetened soy milk
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine)
~ 1 medium onion, chopped
~ 1/2 tsp. salt
~ 1 tsp. parsley
~ 2 cups arborio rice
~ 1/2 cup dry white wine
~ 5-6 cups hot vegetable broth
~ Juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)

~ In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the garlic over medium heat for about a minute.
~ Add the leeks, and cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
~ Add the mushrooms, salt, tarragon and pepper, and cook 5-7 minutes more, until the mushrooms are giving up their liquid.
~ Raise the heat to high, pour in the 1/2 cup soy milk, and cook another minute or two, until the mixture is creamy and slightly thickened. Remove from heat and set aside.
~ In a large, deep saucepan, melt the margarine over medium heat and add the chopped onion, salt and parsley.
~ Cook about 5-7 minutes, until the onions are softened but not brown.
~ Add the rice, and cook for about a minute, making sure the rice is coated with the margarine/onion mixture.
~ Pour in the wine and stir to deglaze the pan.
~ When the wine has mostly evaporated, begin adding the hot broth about a 1/2 cup ladleful at a time, stirring constantly until all the liquid is absorbed.
~ As each ladleful is absorbed, add another, until all the broth has been used. Remember to keep stirring! (This part of the process should take about 20-25 minutes; if you think the liquid is disappearing too quickly, lower the heat.)
~ When all the broth has been absorbed and the rice is tender, add the leek & mushroom mixture, along with the lemon juice.
~ Stir to combine and serve hot, topped with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and/or basil.


  1. LOL!
    I absolutely ADORE Leeks - they be one of my favourite veg!

  2. You're probably Welsh, being from Somerset and all! ;~)