I puzzle over what they might want from me coming year after year, as aphids are their main source of food and I’ve never knowingly entertained any. The first day they appeared in mass numbers, I was amused in dreamy speculation as they gaily freckled the exterior side of my windows before liberally seeping through the cracks. One is delightful, two charming, three a small party…. But when does too much of a welcomed thing tip the scale and become quite another? When man and nature touch what happens in the overlap and why do they huddle about in dark corners?
By the time the bag full of spry leeks arrived I should have been ready, if but a little preoccupied. After all I have waited my entire life to cook with leeks, held off until I cultivated enough refinement to appreciate the pale green delicacy, this relative to the rowdy onion. Seen as little more than an overgrown scallion and with greater than half of it unchewable, steep prices paid seemed more the actions of a fool than a foodie. But with the unexpected gift of Allium porrum, my development in gentility was cut short turning my efforts instead towards highlighting this eternal fresh flavor. But for what special dish, a mere cock-a-leekie soup?
After all look at them! leeks stand proud and stately, bundled tight in weather resistant sheaths of vigorous up shooting greenery. A handsome figure to be sure, they emanate quiet reserved strength. But this tough guy act is rather superficial, roughly one layer deep; which is best wrastled with deftly before tossing it in with the heap of misfits traveling down the cavernous depths of a full and ready stockpot. But never mind that for now, for further on in-- coming closer to the inside a different story is told. Thin cross section slices of a newly vulnerable de-gritted and truncated leek reveal a mesmerizing world of symmetry and grace, a mirror if you will of our many layered selves. And while the chartreuse almost transparent discs have some of the character of fine pristine jewelry, these juicy growth rings also incite feelings of expanding succulent life, of new beginnings.
Rather than treat these leeks to a heavy handed swat of potatoes and cream or a long decadent braise in olive oil, it seemed a different approach might harmonize with leek’s concealed nascent wildness. Influenced by environmental educator and “wild man” Steven Brill, as well as those cheering ladies in red, a turn in tactics also meant leaving well groomed taste behind. For the flavor profile I was looking for emerged from tromping about in brisk weather, smelling damp fallen leaves, and inhaling sharp pungent air. It is the encapsulation of daily life in the fall weeks when everything is sketched in precise thin lines, intentional and wildly alive. Sure things around may be rattling, dying off, and moving out, but there is still seasoned bite and brass to autumn that reminds us of how dynamic each passage of life truly is. Now- what to do about the voles?
His ingredient list matched perfectly the flavor I was going for in my head. However this recipe was intended for wild leeks or ramps which possess a more assertive flavor. To rectify the situation, I radically changed the tahini amounts and in the future will diddle some more with it. I did use 2 Tablespoons of chopped ginger which resulted in such a surprise; I was taken aback- since then the pungency has grown on me. I adjusted the recipe somewhat below to reflect what I would do next time. I will say that this is the perfect thing to sling onto just about anything. I was dipping blue chips into it, as well as toasted walnuts. It was just right on a chunk of salmon and terrific on top of buckwheat soba. Also true, while this was cooking up the Asiatic ladybugs were flying about in enthusiastic frenzy. I think they approved.
2 Tblsp toasted sesame oil
3 C cleaned and sliced leeks/ramps/scallion/onion
1 ½ Tblsp chopped ginger root
8 cloves chopped garlic
1 ½ C stock
¼ C white wine
5 Tblsp tahini
2 Tblsp barley miso
Directions: Sauté the leeks, ginger, and garlic in the sesame oil for about 5 minutes until light golden brown and fragrant. Pour the stock and wine in and continue simmering while scraping the pan of its browned bits. Pour into a blender with the tahini and miso and puree until smooth. Serve over grains, fish, tofu, or vegetables.