by Lauren Chatman
Because it felt like July last week, I almost expected the farm stands to be up and running, stocked with vegetables I’m used to eating when the temperature climbs into the 80s. I searched far and wide for something local to no avail. Okay, I took a drive to Betty and Dale’s on the Bridgehampton Sag Harbor Turnpike, and when I saw that the stand was still closed for the season I consoled myself with a Bay Burger milkshake. Fortified, I kept going, to David Falkowski’s cart on Butter Lane in Bridgehampton where I was finally able to snag a bunch of leeks.
I’m not complaining. Unlike city farm markets, where shoppers are ready to step on each other to get to the leeks and wild ramps at this time of year, the Bridgehampton stand was unattended and I was the only customer in sight. I happily deposited three dollars in the cash box, set my leeks next to me in the passenger’s seat, and brought them home.
Competitive cooks fight over leeks not just because they are the first sign of the vegetable bounty to come, but because of their sweet and delicate onion flavor, which enhances many foods without overwhelming. Leeks are versatile. Thinly slice them and toss them with halved cherry tomatoes, seeded and sliced cucumber, black olives, and oil and vinegar for a mildly pungent salad. Sauté them and then add some eggs and crumbled goat cheese to the pan for a quick spring scramble. Use them to make vichyssoise or French onion soup. Place them in gratin dish, pour a cheesy béchamel sauce over them, sprinkle with bread crumbs, and bake. I could go on.
At the farm stand, look for younger leeks, no more than 1 ½ inches in diameter. These will be milder and less tough than the giant specimens you see in supermarkets, the ones that have to be wrestled into a plastic bag and take up half a shopping cart. To prepare leeks for cooking, strip away any withered outer leaves. Trim and discard the roots and the dark green parts of each leek. Leeks are often full of sand and soil, no surprise since they’ve just been pulled from the earth. To clean, slice them in half lengthwise and rinse them well, ruffling the layers to remove any grit hiding inside. If you want to cook your leeks whole, use a sharp paring knife to cut a deep 2-inch slit from the root end through, and then rinse under cold running water while separating the layers to rinse away any dirt.
Just because I was dealing with a spring vegetable didn’t mean I couldn’t pretend it was the height of summer. So I fired up the grill. I trimmed the roots and upper leaves from my leeks, leaving just about 2 inches above the whites. Then I brushed the leeks with vegetable oil, sprinkled them with salt, and grilled them, turning once, until they were charred on the outside and cooked through. Conveniently, I grilled my teriyaki flank steak skewers alongside them, and both were ready to eat in about 8 minutes. I quickly chopped the leeks and sprinkled them over the flank steak skewers, along with a tablespoon of sesame seeds, and I had a summery dinner with some spring flavor.
Grilled Teriyaki Flank Steak Skewers with Grilled Leeks
Teriyaki sauce contains some sugar, which gives the flank steak a wonderfully caramelized crust. It can also cause sticking, so oil the grill grids well before cooking.
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup mirin
2 tablespoons sugar
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons ground black pepper
1 ¼ pounds flank steak, cut across grain into 1/4-inch thick strips
1 tablespoon vegetable oil plus more for the grill
4 leeks, trimmed and washed
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1. Combine soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar in a small pan and cook over medium heat, stirring, to dissolve sugar. Bring to a simmer, cook for 2 minutes, and pour into a glass measuring cup to cool.
2. Combine teriyaki sauce, garlic, and pepper in a large zipper-lock bag. Add flank steak strips, seal, and turn several times to coat meat with marinade ingredients. Let stand 15 minutes.
3. Heat gas grill to high. Clean grids and brush with vegetable oil. Brush leeks with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil.
4. Thread meat onto thin metal skewers. Grill meat and leeks, turning once, until leeks are lightly charred and softened and steak is cooked to desired doneness (6 to 8 minutes total). Transfer skewers to a serving platter, sprinkle with scallions and sesame seeds, and serve.