Choose young, quite small leeks for this easy, quick recipe, which is good eaten on its own or as an accompaniment to simple grilled meat or fish; or you could serve it with rice. Make sure you wash the leeks thoroughly. Dry sherry makes a nice alternative to soy sauce.
450g/1lb young leeks, trimmed
1 tbsp olive oil or sesame oil
30g/1 oz fresh root ginger
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 fresh red chilli, seeded and chopped
sea salt, optional
light soy sauce, optional
Cut the leeks into large chunks about 7.5 cm/3 in long and grate the ginger (you don’t need to peel it).
Heat the oil in a large pan or a wok over high heat and add the ginger, garlic and chilli. Stir-fry for about half a minute and then add the leeks. Reduce the heat slightly and stir-fry again for about 3 minutes by which time the leeks should be tender but still al dente in the middle.
Add a pinch each of sugar and salt and a dash of soy sauce, if you like. Serve at once.
You could sprinkle over some lightly toasted sesame seeds just before serving.
CREAMY SORREL SOUP
Sorrel is free if you live in the country and is abundant in the hedgerows from early spring. Pick the young leaves. Sorrel has a pleasant but quite sour taste; it can also be used to make a delicious, bright green sauce to go with simply cooked fish or in omelettes. You’ll need a couple of good handfuls of sorrel for this dish. If you have some in the garden or in pots, chervil makes a good alternative to parsley, and plain yogurt can be used instead of crème fraiche.
30g/1 oz butter
450g/1 lb floury potatoes, peeled and diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
170g/6 oz sorrel leaves, washed
1.75 litres/3 pints light chicken or vegetable
stock (a good quality cube is fine)
freshly ground black pepper, optional
300 ml/1/2 pint single cream
FOR THE GARNISH
2 tbsp chopped parsley
3 tbsp crème fraiche
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the potatoes and onion. Stir them around the pan for a minute or two then reduce the heat, cover the pan with a lid and allow the vegetables to sweat gently for 5-7 minutes.
Add the sorrel leaves and the stock, bring to the boil and simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes or until the potatoes and onion are tender.
Allow to cool and then liquidize until smooth. Correct the seasoning, if you wish.
Reheat the soup gently and add the cream; stir well (do not allow the soup to boil) then ladle into soup bowls and serve hot, sprinkled with herbs and garnished with the crème fraiche.
COMPOTE OF EARLY RHUBARB
One of the joys of early spring is early rhubarb. Instead of cooking the rhubarb in a pan on the stove, in this recipe it is gently baked in the oven which stops the stems falling apart. Serve with cream, plain yogurt, vanilla ice cream or crème fraiche.
500g/1 ¼ lb rhubarb, trimmed
15-30ml mild clear honey or 1-2 tbsp granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 200˚C/gas 6. Pare off a few pieces of rind from the orange using a zester or a potato peeler – take care you only want the rind and not the bitter pith.
Wash the rhubarb and cut the stems into smallish chunks (no need to peel the rhubarb if it is young and tender). Place them in a shallow glass, ceramic or stainless steel baking dish.
Halve the orange and squeeze the juice over the rhubarb. Drizzle the honey or spoon over the sugar and scatter the mixture with the rind.
Bake for 20-30 minutes, occasionally spooning the juices over the fruit, until the stalks feel tender at the point of a knife. Allow to cool slightly before serving, or serve cold.
EASTER ROAST LAMB, GREEK STYLE
Spring lamb is always a treat and here is a variation on the usual recipe for English roast lamb which uses plenty of herbs, garlic and, surprisingly, mature hard cheese. Ideally this should be kefalotiri, which you might find if you are in an area where there are Greek shops; otherwise parmesan or grana makes a good substitute.
1 leg of spring lamb, weighing about 2kg/4lb
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and cut into 16 slivers
100g mature cheese, cut into 16 slivers
the juice of a large lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
Preheat the oven to 220˚C/gas 7.
Place the meat on a large piece of foil (you are going to wrap it up in the foil).
Bathe the meat in lemon juice on all sides and then make 8 incisions in the fleshy part of each side of the leg. Poke a piece of garlic and a piece of cheese into each slit.
Season well with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap up the joint securely in the foil.
Place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 190˚C/gas 5 and cook for a further hour or so, or a bit longer, depending on how you like your meat. (Greeks eat their roast lamb well done.)
Open the foil for the final 15 minutes of cooking time and allow the meat to rest for at least 10 minutes before carving.
Serve with a green salad flavoured with fresh dill and boiled potatoes.
Why not make a filling for some pitta breads with some pieces of cold lamb mixed with a little olive oil and some chopped onion, pepper, tomato and cucumber. Seasoned well, this makes a great snack or light meal.