Thursday, June 24, 2010

Grill-braised leeks and artichoke over wild rice with mushroom sauce and eggs

Most of the recipes I post are vegetarian, and in general, I mostly eat vegetarian. I wrote a little about my reasons for doing so here – and could certainly expound upon some of those ideas even more. But the main reason why I mostly eat vegetarian is that I like it. In fact, I love it. I simply love veggies, herbs, grains, eggs, cheese, and nuts. However, the one part that can get a little old has to do with texture. Perhaps not even texture really – textural qualities and descriptors include chewy, tender, meaty, flaky… all of which can be achieved using ingredients from the grain, vegetable, legume, and dairy domains – it might be better described as food geometry - the shape, size, and layout of food on your plate. In simpler terms, I like a dish that requires using a knife. If you look at the cookbook that I single out as the cookbook that opened my eyes to the diversity of flavors in vegetarian cooking, the Moosewood Cookbook, nearly every dish can be eaten with a fork alone. Consider the vegetarian staples. Pastas, stir-fry, and soups use ingredients already processed into bite sized pieces. Quiches, omelets, and casseroles are delicate enough to only necessitate a fork. Pizza and sandwiches require only your hands. Lasagnas and anything stuffed come closer, but even still you could get away with a fork.

So the bottom line is that sometimes I want a vegetarian meal that requires a knife and has a large focal point in the middle of the plate. And recently, I had half a bag of wild rice and a bunch of dried mushrooms in the pantry. I was tempted to make a nice soup or frittata using those ingredients as well as some leeks for a classic combination of flavors. But instead I opted for the “deconstructed” version (I feel terribly pretentious using that term – and I don’t even know if it’s the right word - but I think it suits the meal). What I mean by deconstructing is to keep things relatively large and whole and mix the flavors at the end, on your plate, to your desires. And the focal point ended up being the least likely of the players: the leeks. As well as some artichokes as I ended up cooking the same way as the leeks because there was a pretty big crowd over for dinner. So, the menu ended up being:
-Grilled braised artichokes and leeks
-Mushroom sauce
-Wild rice
-Poached eggs
-Chicken sausages (on the grill)
-No-knead bread I had started a day earlier and finished that morning

Everything was really good, and unfortunately my photography skills don't really do it justice, especially because I'd already broken the egg.

I will just give the recipes for the artichokes, leeks, and mushroom sauce since the rice was just according to the package and I’ve talked about poaching eggs before. I also ended up cutting the wild rice about 2:1 with brown basmati rice, again cause there was a crowd. The leek and artichoke recipes were to some degree inspired by an Alton Brown leek recipe, and a Mark Bittman artichoke recipe.

Grilled braised artichokes and leeks
1 T oil
1 T butter
4 large leeks
3 artichokes
about 2 cups broth or stock (I used BTB veggie stock)

1. Preheat the grill to medium high.
2. Melt the butter and combine with the oil.
3. Trim away the green top of the leek, and then the outermost layer or two of the white part. We want to cut the leeks in half, long-ways, but we need to be careful to keep the layers together, yet still rinse between the layers. To do this, we're gonna keep most of the root area intact. So with a knife, just barely shave away the roots themselves, leaving the bottom of the leek round. Then, slice the leek in half, long-ways. Now rinse them well, the bottom of the leek should keep everything in place and allow you to pull apart the layers to a degree under running water to get the grit out. Leeks can often be really dirty, so this is important.
4. Brush the cut sides with the oil/butter mixture, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
5. Clean the artichokes: rinse them, then use scissors or kitchen shears to snip off the spiky parts. Then cut them in half vertically, and scoop out the hairy part. Marvel at how quickly the flesh oxidizes (turns a little brown), but don't worry this is okay. To slow down that process a little, brush with the oil/butter as soon as you're done scooping at the hairy part on each artichoke half. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
6. Place all the leeks and artichokes on the grill, cut side down, and grill with the lid closed till a little caramelization and grill marks appear (5-8 minutes).
7. Ready two BIG pieces (about 14" each) of heavy duty aluminum foil and place one over the over perpendicularly. You will use this to hold the veggies to complete the braising. Place 3 artichoke halves on top of the foil and fold the edges up around the chokes. Make sure it looks capable of holding liquid, and then pour in broth to about 3/4" deep. Fold together the ends of the foil to create a relatively tight pouch that will hold some steam. Repeat for the other three artichoke halves, and then all the leeks (they'll fit in one pouch).
8. Return the three pouches to the grill, and cook for 15 minutes.
9. Carefully check on the pouches after 15 minutes. Remove from the grill, open pouch carefully (watch out for steam), and see if the veggies are down. You want to be quite tender, a sharp knife should easily pierce the artichoke flesh (on the cut side), and the leeks should be very soft. If they're not, return to the grill, adding more stock if necessary (or water, if you're out of stock), and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Mushroom sauce (or simple saucy mushrooms)
2-3 1.25 ounce packets of dried mushrooms - I used one oyster, one porcini, and one unidentified half packet from the depth of my pantry - may have been shitake.
1 T. butter
3 shallots, chopped rather small
1 carton of white button mushrooms (the larger cartons at the store), sliced
half and half to taste - about 1/2 c.
leaves from 6-8 sprigs of fresh thyme
freshly grated parmesan cheese to taste (optional)

1. Boil some water and pour over dried mushrooms. Break apart any very large dried mushrooms. Let them sit for 20-30 minutes in a bowl.
2. Heat butter and cook shallots over medium for about 8-10 minutes, till they are thoroughly cooked and starting to brown.
3. Add the fresh mushrooms and cook for another 8-10 minutes.
4. Scoop the rehydrated mushrooms out and add them to the pan. Don't throw away the soaking water.
5. Stir everything for a minute, and reduce heat to low, and add the half and half and thyme. Add some of the soaking liquid and salt and pepper as well, and cook a few more minutes till you've got a taste and consistency you like. If you'd like, stir in some parm, or just serve it at the table.

At the table...
Mix, or don't mix, the various pieces to your taste.

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