We interrupt this regularly scheduled dinner of grilled pork products to bring you…Wild Leek Pesto!
Wha? This was my rant last weekend at my in-laws cottage, where, I kid you not, pork was served at every meal. The last night of our holiday, while the pig shoulder was sizzling on the grill, I went out into the woods to forage for my own dinner (and I still wonder why they find me a little odd). Much to my delight, I came back with a huge bunch of wild leeks and a plan to make pesto. I used what I had on hand: lemon, olive oil, nuts, garlic – and the most delicious sauce was born out of some foraged forest findings. Gosh, I love myself.
I don’t normally eat pasta because I prefer to eat the whole grains from which pasta is made instead, but to entice the meat-lovers I thought I would go a little “mainstream”. As I brought the pot of quinoa spaghetti slathered in wild leek pesto down to the fire pit, the guys literally forgot about the pork, dove into my dish, and literally licked their bowls clean! I couldn’t believe it – and neither could they! “It tastes so fresh, and alive, and clean!” my brother-in-law exclaimed with a twinkle in his eye. He went on to say that it was the best pasta he had ever had in his life, but I think the beer had gotten to his head by that point, so let’s just say that it was a tasty hit and another victory for the vegetarian dinner.
This time of year wild leeks are popping up all over the forest floor – and in fancy restaurants. Sometimes referred to as “ramps”, these nutrient-dense green beauties are becoming rather trendy, and one may be able to experience them in seasonally-minded eateries or gourmet grocery stores. If you do happen to find them, whether in the woods or on the shelf, snatch them up quick, because they are not around forever!
You can easily find wild leeks in the woods because they are some of the very first greens to pop out of the ground in the spring right after the snow melts. The plants should have 2 to 3 broad, smooth green leaves with an unmistakable garlic-y/onion odor once picked. Search around rich, moist soils on hillsides or near streams for your tasty treasures.
Wild Leeks and their Medicinal Properties
Wild leeks are not only delicious, they also are loaded with powerful nutrients called flavanoids, my favorite being quercetin. Quercetin is especially effective against seasonal allergies, which is appropriate because so many people suffer from allergy symptoms this time of year. By eating the foods that are in season (re: wild leeks) you can help combat your snotty, sneez-y, wheezies, naturally! Incredible.
Quercetin is also found in onions, cruciferous vegetables, berries, and many nuts and seeds. You can even find it in supplemental form in therapeutic doses if you do suffer from seasonal allergies and would like to give your beautiful body a break from anti-histamines which can leave you feeling, let’s be honest, less-then-perfect. Good idea, eh?
Totally Wild Leek Pesto
1 bunch wild leeks (see photo below – use just the leaves for a sweeter pesto)
½ cup cashews, soaked or lightly toasted (pine nuts are also good)
1 clove garlic
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. agave nectar or honey
pinch of sea salt
zest and juice of one lemon
1. Wash the leeks well by submerging them in a large bowl of water and swishing them around. You may want to leave them in the water for a couple minutes so the dirt will loosen and fall to the bottom of the bowl. Drain and spin dry.
2. Lightly toast cashews in a dry pan until they are just starting to turn golden on one side. Remove from heat. Alternatively, you can soak the cashews in fresh water for 4 hours or so, until soft.
3. Put all ingredients except olive oil in a food processor and pulse until well combined. With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil until a desired consistency is reached. If you like your pesto a little smoother and creamier, add more oil. Taste to adjust seasoning.
4. Serve. Can be stored in the fridge for up to a week (but remember that it will lose its nutritional potency with every passing day!)
Much like my other pestos and sauces, this wild leek pesto is a totally boss addition to anything that needs a flavour boost. As mentioned above, it is super-delish on pasta (in replacement of said pork products. Tee hee.), but can also be mixed into warm rice (awesome!), spread onto toast with a little avocado perhaps, as a salad dressing, or as a dip for veggies. The possibilities for something so mouth-watering are endless, so I hope you can get your wild on, transform into a mythical forest nymph for an hour or so, and eat some leeks! You know you want to…