I love a good mystery.

Particularly in the vegetable aisle.

How will the sunchokes taste? The celeriac? That knobby, bulbous bunch of kohlrabi?

Those veggies excite me. They make me want to curl up with a good cookbook and figure out how to crack their codes.

Leeks? Not so much.

Until last night.

Our market boasted a bin of fat, juicy leeks this week, and I grabbed a few. I figured I’d use them in place of onions.

But while browsing J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s entertainingly methodical book, “The Food Lab,” I stumbled on a recipe that cast leeks front and center. No meat for them to melt into. No secondary vegetable to steal their spotlight. Just leeks, in all their long, layered glory.

I was skeptical. Leeks, after all, are onions. Delicate onions. They have a gentle, faintly sweet flavor that seems best as complement — not star. Served alone, would they meet my family’s side-dish expectations?

Absolutely. Cut vertically and seared, then braised in butter and broth, they emerged from the oven with a tender, velvet texture and slightly meaty flavor. The transformation was nothing short of …

Mysterious.

I’ll still comb the market for new and unusual vegetables. (Purple cauliflower, anyone?) But leeks now have a place in my grocery cart.

leeks

Braised Leeks (Adapted from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s “The Food Lab”)

I braised these in chicken broth, as per the recipe. But you could use another liquid for a vegetarian take.

  • 3 large leeks
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • Juice of half a lemon

Preheat  your oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease an 8- to 9-inch casserole dish and set it aside.

Trim the dark green leaves off of the leeks. Slice the leeks in half vertically, then clean them under running water. (Be sure to get the water between the layers — that’s where dirt and grit can reside.)

Dry the leaks well.

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the leeks, cut-side down, and sear for 4 minutes. Resist the urge to move them or fiddle with them in any way.

Transfer the leeks cut-side up to your prepared baking dish. Dot them with the butter, sprinkle them with the thyme, and season them with salt and pepper. Pour the chicken broth over them.

Cover your dish tightly with foil, then bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking 5 to 10 more minutes, until the leeks have no resistance when pierced with a fork.

Remove them from the oven and stir in the lemon zest and juice. Serve immediately.

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