A recent issue of California Bountiful magazine showcases a vegetable that doesn’t enjoy much limelight: the leek. Mayet Cristobal, a Bon Appétit executive chef at a corporate location in Los Angeles, shared her appreciation for this mild relative of the onion:
Even though she didn’t know much about leeks until she started cooking professionally, chef Mayet Cristobal has no trouble these days ticking off some of her favorite ways to use the vegetable — and it doesn’t even include the obvious: potato-leek soup.
The potato-leek combination remains “very classic,” she acknowledged, but there are myriad ways to incorporate leeks into recipes or to feature them as a main attraction. “I think it’s time for leeks to be the star. It’s a great vegetable,” said Cristobal. “Leeks are actually very versatile, just like onions. I definitely think it hasn’t been given enough credit.” With a flavor similar to onions and garlic, but milder and more delicate with a touch of sweetness, leeks may get overlooked because they haven’t been subjected to the spotlight enough, she said, noting that at grocery stores, “you just see a small stack of it.” Having grown up in the Philippines, where leeks are not commonly grown, Cristobal said she was not familiar with the vegetable either. Her mother, who cooks traditional Asian food, always opted for regular onions, green onions or chives — all relatives of leeks.
Mayet’s Leek, Kabocha, and Shrimp Okoy
Okoy is a Filipino street food of crispy pan-fried fritters. Okoy is traditionally made with flour and egg batter with shrimp, shredded hard squash or sweet potatoes, bean sprouts, onions, and carrots. This okoy recipe version replaces the onions with leeks. Makes 6 servings
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup rice flour
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup cold water
1 cup grated acorn squash, peel on
2 cups julienned leeks, white parts only
1 cup shredded Yukon potato
3 cloves minced garlic
8 oz. peeled shrimp, roughly chopped
Salt to taste
Cracked black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil for frying
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup palm or rice vinegar
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
Chopped jalapeno (optional)
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Make the batter by combining cornstarch, rice flour, egg, and water in a mixing bowl. Mix all the ingredients well then add the vegetables and shrimp. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.
Heat up a frying pan over medium heat and add the oil. Place a small mound of fritter batter on the pan, do not overcrowd. Fry the fritters on each side until brown, about two minutes on each side.
Sauce: combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.
Eat while hot, with dipping sauce.