If I inspired you, I've done my job!

April 15, 2011

Chicken Leeken

As I was creating my yesterday’s post, I was thinking it would be unfair to mention only chives from the big family of onions. So I decided to dedicate the rest of the recipes this month to other members of this crunchy, empowered by nutrients family.

Next performance is by the tall brother named Leek. This wonderful vegetable does not grow a bulb like its more popular brother—the onion, it remains straight, cylindrical in shape. While its white part remains mostly hidden, its neatly pleated emerald leaves crest over the ground like a green peacock tail. Layer after layer leek is wrapped with vitamins and minerals that are essential to our health. They include potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and sulfur—that is what makes eating leeks a little bit gassy.

Leek has mild onion flavor but not as astringent as scallions. While prepping the chunky stud, you might not shed any tears as you do with regular onion, but you surely will smell the essential oils that are evaporating making your sinuses open up for more! These oils contain all the vitamins: ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and niacin (vitamin B3) as well as carotene, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and thiamin (vitamin A).

Originated from South-western Asia, leeks found many uses for its talents in Mediterranean cuisine. Baked into pies, stuffed with meet or simply braised they are quite popular in Turkey and Greece.

Here is some trivia about leeks from the Internet I find interesting : Dried specimens from archaeological sites in Egypt, as well as wall carvings and drawings showed that the leek was a part of the Egyptian diet “from at least the 2nd millennium BCE onwards.” They also allude to surviving texts that show it had been also grown in Mesopotamia from the beginning of the second millennium BCE.

The leek was the favorite vegetable of the Emperor Nero, who consumed it in soup or in oil, believing it beneficial to the quality of his voice.

The leek is one of the national emblems of Wales, worn along with the daffodil (in Welsh, the daffodil is known as "Peter's Leek,") on St. David’s Day.

In Romania, the leek is also widely considered a symbol of Oltenia, a historical region in the southwestern part of the country.

This popular handsome guy hides a lot of dirt inside, however. Literally! That is why it requires detailed preparation. But it’s not hard. All you have to do is to let gravity give you a hand. Here is how:

Cut off the roots and dark green part of he leaves, this is about ½ of all the length.
Chop each stalk on bias.
Separate the layers and collect the chopped rings in the bowl. Pour cold tap water all the way to the brim and let stand for 20 minutes. All the sand will descend to the bottom. Transfer leeks into the colander (don not pour it over or the dirt will come back!) rinse, and let air dry or pat with clean absorbent towel. The crunchy rings are ready to be cooked!

And what are we cooking today? Chicken Leeken! You have probably already guessed, the inspiration comes from a familiar children's book story—Chicken Licken. One day I was reading this story to my son, amusing him with a very distinctive accent and pronouncing the short [i] sound in ‘Licken’ as long [i:] sound.

I love this dish for its simplicity and my kids love to eat it with chopsticks and ask for it often, although the memory of the story has faded away. Well, not FAR away, my son is only five!

Chicken Leeken

Serves 6 to 8

1 ¾ lb chicken breast, cut in thin strips (see photo)

1 bunch leeks (about 4 medium thickness), prepared as described above
2 T spoons chopped fresh cilantro
2-3 cloves of garlic, pressed through a garlic press
1 inch cube of fresh ginger root, pressed through a garlic press
(yes, you can use this gadget here, too!)
1 teaspoon of sea salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 T spoons olive oil

2 cups uncooked white rice

  • Cook the rice in 4 cups of water with a pinch of salt.
  • Heat oil in a large skillet or wok and add chicken, garlic, ginger, salt and pepper and cook over high heat until chicken is no longer pink, stirring constantly to prevent burning.
  • Add leeks. Don’t worry if it looks like they don’t fit—the volume will reduce as you cook them. Let the leeks sweat for 20 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
  • Turn off the heat and add chopped cilantro.
Serve over a bed of cooked rice.
…And as the story goes, a sly fox eats Chicken Leeken along with other silly birds! Bon appetite, foxy!

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