February 13, 2014 at 1:00 am

French bistro dish features a distinctive, lightly onion taste

Leeks Vinaigrette is delicious served hot or as a chilled first course. (Noel Barnhurst)

Leeks are without a doubt my favorite flavor addition to most savory dishes. Like onion, but more delicate with a hint of sweetness, leeks add rich, elegant flavor to a savory stew, soup, egg, pasta, rice, potato, poultry or meat dish. It’s difficult to believe that they have been referred to as a poor man’s asparagus. Sautéed in butter or olive oil, leeks add a subtle onion flavor that won’t overpower other flavors in a dish, and they can be substituted in almost any savory dish where an onion is called for.

Most plentiful in the fall, winter and early spring, leeks look like large scallions with a white bulb and a green cylindrical stalk. Look for leeks that are medium-sized (no more than 1 ½ inches in circumference; otherwise they may be fibrous and less sweet) with a large white bulb and a few inches of light green stalk, as well as the dark green. If you want to see how to clean and cut a leek, take a look at my video on YouTube (search for “Seriously Simple: How to cut a leek”). Buy them with the long green leaves attached so that you can cut them just before cooking for optimum freshness.

In this dish, a French bistro favorite, leeks are browned and braised in broth that adds a uniquely rich flavor to the dish. Dressed with a simple vinaigrette made from the broth and enhanced with lemon zest, parsley and garlic, this dish is delicious served hot or as a chilled first course on a pretty platter.

Tips on leeks

■Leeks are very dirty, so make sure to clean them thoroughly.

■When cleaning leeks, split them down the middle, making sure that the root is intact, and place under cold water to clean out any excess dirt.

■Garnish the leeks with ½ pound cooked shrimp or crabmeat, then drizzle on the sauce.

■Serve as a side with any grilled dish.

■Serve as a first course, sprinkled with chopped egg and garnished with red and yellow cherry tomatoes or tiny pear tomatoes.

Leeks Vinaigrette

1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned (see tips on leeks)
1 ½ cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley, plus more for garnish
2 teaspoons lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a skillet large enough to hold the leeks in one layer, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat.

Put the leeks in the skillet and cook, using tongs to turn them, for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the broth, cover and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the leeks are tender when pierced with a knife. Transfer the leeks to a serving platter with a rim.

Off the heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, lemon juice, mustard, parsley, lemon zest and garlic to the skillet, and whisk to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture over the leeks and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately, or chill. Serves 4.

Advance preparation: May be made one day ahead, covered and refrigerated.

Per serving: 196 calories; 11 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 51 percent calories from fat); 24 g carbohydrates; 0 mg cholesterol; 293 mg sodium; 4 g protein; 3 g fiber.

Diane Rossen Worthington is the author of 18 cookbooks and a James Beard award-winning radio show host. seriouslysimple.com