I think it’s kind of a shame that Americans haven’t really taken to leeks (same with shallots, I’d say).  Personally, I love ’em.  One of the best things I’ve ever eaten was a sautéed ramp.  A ramp, unless I’ve been misinformed, is essentially a wild leek.  The chef I was working for at the time (back around 2000), Jamie Eisenberg, was an accomplished forager.  She could take you out for a ten minute walk in the Vermont woods and point out a dozen naturally growing edibles.  One day she came across an al fresco patch of ramps, pulled a few, brought them back into the kitchen, and that’s how that happened.  Very recently yanked out of the dirt and served simply.  Can’t beat that.

I wish that I were good at foraging, but I grew up in the desert, where there’s not much point in that sort of activity unless you’re keen on eating rocks and scorpions.  I’m of no use whatsoever in the woods, and trees kind of give me the creeps, to be honest.  I get claustrophobic.

I was a Boy Scout for a long time, but a Boy Scout in the desert.  I don’t have the slightest idea how to make snowshoes out of found spruce boughs, but, on the other hand, I can show you how to eat cactus,  how to make a solar water still, and how to avoid getting trampled by a herd of stampeding bulls.  Can’t help you ID mushrooms, though.  Sorry.  I know you had your heart set on it.

From your school days, do you remember learning about hunters and gatherers?  They’re distinct from domesticators and farmers.  There still are plenty of hunters and gatherers–foragers–left in the world.  Anthropologists have asked them, “Wouldn’t you rather have a job, get a paycheck, and just buy your food at the store?”  “Ha!” the foragers replied.  “Are you nuts?  Seriously, are you?  I wake up when I want, spend an hour or so finding enough food to get my family through the day, and I’m done.  It’s not even nine o’clock, and the rest of the day is mine to do what I want.  You ‘civilized’ people are the crazy ones.  I wouldn’t trade places with you in a million years.”

They make a good point.  Once you start planting crops and milking goats, you’re stuck.  No time off for you, bub.  Nope.

Still, I wouldn’t pick a fight with whoever first decided to domesticate and cultivate leeks.  Heck, I’d give him a medal.  Same goes for whoever came up with the idea for Cheddar.  I’d even go so far as to introduce Miss Leek Farmer to Mr. Cheddar Maker.  I bet you anything they’d hit it off.

Wait a minute–somebody beat me to it, and thus we have:

Cheddar and leek soup

As written, the yield is about a half-gallon.

Caveat:  Leeks are notoriously filthy, full of grit and dirt and all manner of icky things.  Be sure to rinse them really, really well before you try to do anything with them.

1 oz. butter

8 oz. mirepoix, small dice*

8 oz. leek, chopped up fine

2 0z. flour

1 1/2 qt. chicken stock

a sachet of

  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed peppercorns

1/2 c. dry white wine or flat beer  (I’ve even seen people use Sprite® in a pinch)

1/2 c. half-and-half

1 lb. grated Cheddar**

salt and cayenne at your pleasure

chopped fresh parsley and croutons for garnish

*–In case you forgot, mirepoix is, ideally, 50% onion and 25% each celery and carrot.  So for this recipe, we’re looking at four ounces of onion, two of carrot, and two of celery.  Don’t go getting all wiggy over the numbers, though.  If your mirepoix is off a little either way, no one will notice or care.  The percentages are a rough guideline and not gospel.  Feel free to throw some parsley stems in there as well, if you happen to have any lying around.  Parsley goes very well with mirepoix.

**–I know, I say the same thing every time cheese turns up, but I feel obligated to say it:  Cheap cheese isn’t good and good cheese isn’t cheap.  The good news is that a little goes a long way.

Sweat the mirepoix and the leeks in the butter until everything’s nice and tender.  Stir in the flour and let it cook for a minute or two.  Give it all a good stir now and then, just to make sure that nothing gets scorched.

Add the sachet and the stock and bring it up to a boil.  Add the wine/beer/Sprite® or whatever, the half-and-half, and the Cheddar, turn it down to a gentle simmer, and let it do its thing for about an hour.

Strain it, and season it with however much salt and cayenne you deem necessary.  Don’t be a pansy–it’s surprising how much salt and pepper food can take.  I had a chef once–don’t remember who–tell me that you should keep adding more and more salt, but stop right before it begins to taste salty.  Good advice, in a way, but also frustrating and something you can really only learn from experience.

Don’t be a pansy, but don’t be hasty either.  Taste it a lot, and keep fine-tuning it.  Done properly, it can take a long time, but that’s okay.  It’s well worth the effort.  You’ll see.

If  it looks too thick to you–which is unlikely, but possible–thin it with some warm half-and-half.  Serve it in heated bowls, each garnished with parsley and croutons.

If you’re feeling intrepid and don’t mind doing a bit of flying by the seat of your pants, you can try adding some mustard powder and/or Worcestershire sauce.

Pretty darned easy, but let me know if you have any questions, comments, or observations.

PS:  For the record, I happen to like pansies.  Theyre pretty, durable, and edible.  Those are admirable qualities.