There is nothing nicer than the smell of leeks, slowly cooking in olive oil. My mother in law has a little Greek book that lists all of the health benefits of various fruits and vegetables. Along with eating at least one tomato per day, she advises to use leeks in cooking as often as possible. The reason for this is that not only do they add to the depth of flavour of a dish but leeks, like garlic and onions, belong to a vegetable family called the "Allium" vegetables. Since leeks are related to garlic and onions, they contain many of the same beneficial compounds found in these well-researched, health-promoting vegetables.
While you might normally associate leeks with Welsh winter cooking, they have a long history in Greek cooking - way to back to ancient times, where the Greeks believed them to cure nosebleeds. Leeks are more common in the cookery of Northern Greece, such as Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace. Aside from a variety of leek and meat stews, one of the more common Greek dishes using leeks is a "prasopita" (πρασόπιτα), a lovely combination of leeks and sheep's cheese all wrapped up in homemade phyllo pastry. This is on my list of family recipes to try soon. However, after a long day in the office - pastry work is not high on my list of culinary tasks. Luckily, that is where today's dish steps in. Prasorizo (πρασόρυζο) is basically a Greek version of a leek risotto, with plenty of lemon and herbs - the difference being that the real star of the dish is the leeks, not the rice itself. If you are familiar with spanakorizo (σπανακόριζο), spinach rice, this dish is basically an alternative version using beautifully flavoursome, slowly cooked leeks instead of spinach.
Along with a bounty of colourful lemons, leeks are one of the nicest treats of winter. This traditional recipe, which combines them both, was shared with me (a few years ago now) while Mr K and I were on our honeymoon visiting the spectacular 14th Century cliff top monasteries in Metaora in Northern Greece. The monks and nuns of the monasteries have a wealth of really spectacular vegetarian dishes, including this one. Prasorizo is wonderfully warming and hearty, and can easily be made on a weeknight served alongside some olives and feta, with a good wedge of lemon. The tip to creating a really flavoursome dish is to slowly cook the onions and leeks for a long time, to bring our the sweetness. Also, make sure to wash the leeks carefully as there is often quite a bit of sand and dirt lurking in the green layers.
* 1 kg of leeks, white part only, cleaned and cut lengthwise into quarters and then 2 inch long pieces
* 1 onion, chopped finely
* 1/2 cup of olive oil
* 3 & 1/2 cups of homemade vegetable (or chicken stock)
* 1 & 1/4 cups of uncooked white rice
* 1 lemon, sliced
* 1/2 bunch of fresh dill, chopped
* 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano, chopped
* juice of 1 lemon
* Seasoning to taste
* Mizithra cheese, grated to serve
1. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a fry pan and add the onion. Cook until translucent. Add the leeks and cook for around 5 minutes until wilted. Do not brown.
2. Add the remaining olive oil and two cups of stock to a separate saucepan, add the leeks and onion and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
3. Add 1 1/2 cups of remaining stock and return to a boil. Cover the leeks with a layer of rice and season, then add a layer of sliced lemons over the top of the rice. Cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Remove from heat, peel off the lemons and stir in chopped dill, oregano and an extra squeeze of lemon juice (if desired). Cover the top of the pot with a clean tea towel and place the lid of the pan on top, and let stand, covered, for 15 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
5. Serve in bowls, with an extra wedge of lemon and a grating of myzithra cheese. You could also serve alongside a bowl of olives and feta.