Pirasa – Luscious Leeks
Considering the fact that Peter Sommer Travels is based in Wales, and St. David’s Day is fast approaching, we thought it only appropriate to offer a delicious leek dish for your delectation. It’s hard to move for leeks at this time of year in our neighbourhood – not only is the leek the national symbol of Wales, it is worn with great pride by the Welsh on their patron saint’s day (you’ll also see it waved enthusiastically at Welsh international rugby matches).
Leeks have been a popular ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine for a very long time, and the homely Turkish leek stew presented here is a firm favourite on our cruises and in many a lokanta across Turkey. It makes for a great comforting winter warmer when served piping hot as a starter or main course, but can also be served cold as a snack or meze in summer, allowing it to develop a surprisingly complex flavour. As it is a very simple dish made of only a few ingredients, the quality and freshness of the produce are especially important.
Although the leek’s wild progenitor is not known (it is not derived from the plant known as wild leek or ramps in North America), it was probably native to the Eastern Mediterranean and may have formed part of prehistoric diets in the region. Since it is available freshly grown throughout the year, it became very popular with the Greeks, whose word for light green was derived from it. Interestingly, they believed it to be an aphrodisiac! The Roman emperor Nero is said to have eaten leeks daily, so as to improve his singing voice – apparently with limited success.
The Turks must have encountered leeks when they first entered Anatolia, as the Turkish word pırasa is derived from the Greek prason (plural prasa). So, it is not a great stretch of the imagination to suggest that leek dishes similar to the one presented here were eaten and enjoyed by the very people who inhabited the sites we visit on our tours in Turkey!
Ingredients (serves: 4):
3 large leeks, sliced
2 onions, chopped
2 large or 3 normal sized tomatoes, diced, including their juice (use the tastiest tomatoes you can find; in the worst case, canned chopped tomatoes work as well)
juice of half a lemon
5 tablespoons olive oil
garlic to taste, chopped
salt, pepper, parsley, thyme
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste with salt, pepper, parsley and thyme. Then, pour everything into a lidded casserole or similar baking dish, cover, and place it in a preheated oven preheated set to a medium temperature. Bake for c.90 minutes or until the leek has softened. Let the dish cool down a little before serving. It’s as simple as that. It’s not complex or time consuming just incredibly tasty.
It can be served by itself as a vegetarian main course, or can be matched perfectly with pretty much any meat or fish dish. If you want to spice the recipe up a bit, try adding some chopped chilli peppers.
A Ricy Alternative:
If you’re leek mad like the Welsh here’s another leek dish from the canon of Turkish recipes. Two recipes for the price of one!
Rice is very widely used in Turkey and is frequently combined with leeks for a yummy dish. Once again it’s incredibly simple but has a slightly different texture to the recipe above.
Ingredients (serves: 4):
4 large fresh leeks, peeled and chopped into thick slices
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 onion, chopped
5 tablespoons olive oil
half a cup (90g) of rice (This improves the texture of the dish. If you leave it out and add some stock to the water, you end up with a nice leek-and-carrot soup)
salt, pepper, sugar
juice of 1 lemon
Gently heat the olive oil at the bottom of a saucepan or in a tall-rimmed frying pan, then fry the onion very slowly, until they begin to caramelise. If you are in a hurry, you can accelerate this process by adding a teaspoon of sugar once the onion has begun to soften. Next, add the carrots and fry at a slightly increased temperature for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Then, mix the leeks in and continue for another few minutes, until the carrots and leeks have both begun to soften.
Season to taste and stir well. If you have not caramelised the onion, and the leeks did not strike you as being highly aromatic while cutting them, add a little sugar as well. Then, pour in 200ml of water and raise the heat. Once it has begun to boil, add the rice, reduce the temperature and cover the pot. Let it simmer for at least 20 minutes (cooking time depends on the type of rice used), stirring occasionally and adding a little water if necessary. Once the rice is soft, all you have to do is mix in the lemon juice.
Now you are faced with the usual choice –you can serve the dish immediately or, if you prefer to serve it cold, allow it to cool to room temperature and then place it in the refrigerator until needed. In either case, the stew goes well with soft fresh bread. If you want to serve it as a side dish, combine it with something quite simple such as grilled lamb chops.
We hope you enjoy your Pırasa, or, as they say in Turkey, “Afiyet olsun”. Or, as they say in Wales “Mwynhewch eich bwyd”!