In northern Spain in the spring, slates outside bars enthusiastically announce that leeks are in the house, a testament to the craze around this seasonal delicacy. This is where I fell in love with the velvety, voluptuous and subtly sweet braised leeks, drizzled with olive oil and served at room temperature.
Now combine this image with smooth and creamy labneh, crunchy marcona almonds and loads of fresh herbs and za’atar. This dish is a stunner worthy of a gorgeous brunch, luncheon, or any other festive springtime occasion. Serve with flatbread for a meal or as part of a mezze.
Prepare the components in advance and assemble them when you are ready. Leeks are easier to eat when cut into small pieces, which you can do before piling them on the labneh; or serve them whole for a more dramatic presentation. Marcona almonds are definitely worth it for this dish but, if needed, you can replace them with toasted almonds.
BRAISED LEEKS WITH LABNEH AND MARCONA ALMONDS
For 4 to 6 people
2 cups full-fat plain Greek yogurt
½ teaspoon of salt
5 to 6 large leeks, roots and dark green tops removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup seasoned vegetable broth
6 sprigs of fresh thyme
½ cup chopped marcona almonds
½ cup chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, mint or dill
Combine the Greek yogurt and salt and place in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Refrigerate overnight to allow whey to drain from yogurt and thicken into creamy labneh. Discard the whey (or save it to make bread, pancakes, smoothies, etc.).
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the toughest, outermost layers of the leeks and discard. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and run under cold water to remove all the grit, making sure to rinse between coats but keeping the leeks intact.
Place leeks, cut side down, in a single layer in a 9×13-inch roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil, wine and vegetable broth (the liquid should reach halfway up the leeks). Season with salt and pepper and chop the sprigs of thyme on top.
Roast for 45 to 55 minutes, turning the leeks halfway through cooking, until completely tender and lightly browned. Let cool to room temperature.
To assemble, spread the labneh out on a large serving platter. Drain the leeks of the braising liquid (can be saved to flavor a soup or broth) and arrange them on the labneh. Season with fresh cracked pepper and salt, sprinkle with za’atar seasoning and sprinkle with marcona almonds and fresh herbs. Finally, drizzle with a good drizzle of olive oil and serve.
Dietitian and food writer Laura McLively is the author of “The Berkeley Bowl Cookbook.” Follow her at @myberkeleybowl and www.lauramclively.com.