Dirty secret about leeks

Leeks are a nuisance to clean. In addition, the green part of the leek is not used in many recipes.

The fastest way to clean leeks is to slice them in half lengthwise and run under water, separating the layers to make sure the dirt is gone. Then slice horizontally.

I recently found some cleaned and sliced leeks sold in 6-ounce packages by Melissa’s Produce and was thrilled. They made the whole process easier.

Nathalie Dupree

It’s a magical time in the garden. Collards are bolting, big, long spikes of yellow flowers sticking up, and large leaves that portend a bit of bitterness and change. The lemons, limes and oranges are gone.

The parsley is gigantic, as are the nasturtium leaves. Thyme is coming back, and asparagus is sending up tiny tendrils.

Change can be found at the grocery stores, too. Asparagus and fennel are ready to use. It’s nearly time to give up apples and pears and let strawberries hold sway. I even lied to myself about the season and purchased some basil plants just for the promise of summer.

After sorting out what’s still here, what will be in for a while and what will be arriving for the plate and palate, I’ve gathered them together for a good look, going from one side of the cutting board to the other. The result of this melding is a stash of ideas and food for soups and salads, things that can go either way depending on the day’s whim of weather — as some days are still nippy and others hot.

It’s a simple thing to make a salad. After washing all fruits and vegetables, take a little taste of each when possible. Are the collards too bitter for a salad but good for a soup? How about an asparagus salad or soup? Why not toss the leeks with the apples for a salad, or make a soup from them?

Mix and match, without being beholden to recipes, making a grand adieu to those moving out and hello to those moving in. The pears and apples make good companions to the sliced fennel, topped by some of the fennel’s fronds.

For a salad, I added some of my nasturtium and pansy flowers to arugula and watercress tossed with vinaigrette. I could have added a bit of protein — cheese, shrimp, shredded chicken or crab — to the salad or soup. Luscious sweet mango would enhance crab, shrimp or chicken as well.

In short, combine the magic of the two seasons for the brief time they are both here.

As a guideline, here is a leek and potato soup recipe from Melissa’s Produce.

Potato Leek Soup

Makes about 4 servings

Not only did I make this soup as is with a dash of chopped parsley, I made another batch, added a bit of curry to the leeks while sauteing them and made a curried leek and potato soup. Then I substituted chopped-up apples and a roasted chicken stock for the potatoes and chicken stock for another variation.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter

1 (6 ounce) package of cleaned and sliced leeks (or 1 to 2 leeks, depending on size)

11/2 cups small potatoes, diced large

3 cups vegetable or chicken stock or broth

1 cup milk

1 cup heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Chopped parsley or chives

Directions

Melt the butter in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until translucent, stirring often. Add the potatoes, stock/broth, milk and cream and season with the salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and then simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes or until the potatoes are very tender. Remove from the heat and carefully puree with submersible or tabletop blender. Check the seasoning, garnish with the parsley or chives and serve.

Nathalie Dupree is the author of 13 cookbooks, most recently “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking.” She lives in Charleston and may be reached through Nathaliedupree.com.