Gestoofde prei

This is going to sound so foreign to anybody who lives in Europe, but for the longest time I was unable to find prei, leeks, in the grocery store here in the US. Granted, I live in a rural area and am nowhere near a large city, but even when shopping in the capital of the state, I was not able to find any. It's only since a few years that they make an appearance, and at that still a spendy one: three stalks will near $4 easily. 

How different it is in the Netherlands! I am probably exaggerating a tiny bit, but just about anybody has a stalk or two of prei in their cart, sticking out of their shopping bag, or tucked underneath the snelbinders, those rubber straps on the rear rack of the bicycle. I did a quick search on the main Dutch grocery store website, and 2 stalks of leeks are 1 euro. One euro!!! Oh, the envy.... :-)

Prei features prominently in our cuisine: it's a key ingredient for many soups, casseroles, or as a main vegetable, like today's dish. They are considered a tasty vegetable that's valued for their fiber, nutritional content, and low-calorie profile. Not surprisingly then, leek agriculture in the Netherlands is a significant part of the country's vegetable trade, with the Netherlands being one of the key players in international leek trade alongside Belgium. 

The Netherlands produces between 90,000 and 100,000 tons of leeks per season, starting from late February or early March until the end of July or early August, ensuring a year-round availability that includes both summer and winter varieties. The main areas for leek growing is primarily in the North Brabant and Limburg regions, with more than half of this production destined for export. Well, I don't know where they're exporting it to, but it certainly isn't to my little corner of the world! 

One of the main reasons why I am so utterly pleased to finally have leeks within reach is because I absolutely love, love, love braised leeks. Because we grew up in Limburg, leeks were just about everywhere, and my grandma used to make these delicious leeks, braised in butter, with white wine and capers. It's such a simple dish, but so very satisfying! Leeks can also be served in a cream sauce, with béchamel, a cheese sauce, or sautéed with bacon. This is just one of the many ways. 

Makes four servings.

Gestoofde prei
3 large leek stalks
4 tablespoons (55 grams) butter
1 bay leaf
1 heaping tablespoon capers
1/2 cup (125 ml white wine)
1/2 cup (125 ml vegetable stock)

Cut the root ends off the leeks, and the darkest of the dark leaves at the top. (Don't discard them, but wash and slice them thin, and use them for soups, omelets or in casseroles). Cut the stalks into 3 inch pieces. Rinse under running water (if they're very sandy, cut in half lengthwise). Melt the butter in the pan, and add the leek stalks. Don't let them brown, but turn them over every two to three minutes until they start to soften a little bit. Add the bay leaf, capers, wine, and stock, bring to a simmer, turn down, cover with a fitting lid, and let them braise for about fifteen minutes. Check with a fork to make sure the leeks are tender and soft. Taste the sauce and see if you need to adjust the salt level. 


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