Cranberries are one of the very few commercially grown fruits that are native to North America, and as such they aren't very common in France. So when I saw the bags of fresh red berries on the shelf at one of the larger local grocery markets, I practically bought the entire display! Not entirely sure what I was going to do with them, I dumped the whole lot into a chest freezer, because if I know anything, it's that cranberries keep remarkably well in the freezer.
Still, it didn't take long for me to come up with an idea to make use of them. I absolutely love the idea of evolving classic French dishes by bringing a little of my own je ne sais quoi to their execution and so decided flip the classic leeks vinaigrette on its head by keeping the leeks slightly crunchy and using lemon juice as the acid in their seasoning.
The traditional vinegar and Dijon mustard-based dressing are then brought back into play as a cranberry and shallot relish of sorts. I think the result is successfully fresh and tart, which pairs deliciously with the natural sweetness of the leeks. A perfect option to lighten up a heavier fall meal.
Leeks can be really dirty in between their outermost leafy layers, so make sure to wash them thoroughly before cooking. Nobody likes the feeling of sand between their teeth.
Servings: 4, as a side dish
4 medium-sized leeks
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup fresh (or frozen) cranberries
1/2 cup cold water
5 pieces medium-sized shallots, root ends and skins removed
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp grainy Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp smooth Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 sprigs fresh thyme
½ cup hazelnuts, oven toasted
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
6 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ tsp Fleur de sel
Fill a medium pot with well-salted water, cover and bring to a boil.
Prepare the leeks by trimming ¼ inch from each base, removing and discarding the root end. Slice off the dark green end at the top of each leek and discard. Cut a 2 to 3 inch slit lengthwise at the top of each leek. Rinse under cold running water, carefully separating each of the layers to remove any dirt. Cut each leek in two, crosswise.
Prepare an ice bath by combining 2 trays of iced cubes and 1 litre of water in a large bowl and set aside.
Carefully add the leeks to the boiling water and cook at a brisk simmer until tender, seven to 10 minutes. Be careful not to leave them in for too long, as overcooked leeks can become slimy. To test doneness, insert a paring knife blade into the stalk. The blade should go in under gentle pressure.
Once cooked, remove leeks from the boiling water and immediately transfer them to the ice bath. Allow to cool completely. Strain well, pat dry and reserve in a sealed container in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
To make the relish, halve each shallot and slice thinly lengthwise. Place in a small pot. Add sugar, vinegar, water, salt and cranberries and tightly cover with cling film. Simmer over medium-low heat and cook for 30 minutes until cranberries have burst, shallots are soft and translucent and liquid has reduced by half. Cool completely. Stir in both mustards and the olive oil.
Next, the hazelnuts. First, pick thyme buds and discard stems. On a flat surface, like a cutting board, lightly crush toasted hazelnuts using the back of a small frying pan.
To finish, peel away and discard outermost layers of each cooked leek. Cut in half again crosswise, and then halve each piece lengthwise. Place leeks in a medium-sized bowl, add lemon juice, olive oil and salt and mix well by hand, allowing the leek layers to separate and become well coated in the simple marinade.
Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Divide into 4 small bowls. Spoon two good spoonfuls of cranberry relish over each dish. Garnish with crushed hazelnuts and thyme. Serve immediately.
Keep any leftover cranberry relish refrigerated until future use.