Plant Oriented Cooking

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RECIPE: Sweet and Sour Escarole and Leeks


  • 3 medium leeks, white and palest green parts only, cut into ¼-inch wide strips
  • 1 head escarole, base cut off and chopped, washed, drained (some water remaining on leaves is needed for cooking)
  • ½ tablespoon sugar, plus a pinch or two more
  • Light flavored olive oil or neutral flavored oil such as grapeseed, as needed
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons of dry white wine such as Chenin Blanc or grenache blanc
  • ½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons white wine or sherry vinegar


  1. Heat a 10-inch sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, film with oil. Add 1 tablespoon butter and as soon as it stops foaming, add the leeks, tossing to coat with oil/butter evenly. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until leeks are tender and translucent, around 10 minutes. Watch them closely so they do not scorch. After 10 minutes add the wine and cook, tossing frequently, until the wine evaporates. Cook until the leeks are tender yet remain white. Remove from the pan and put into a non-reactive bowl and keep warm.
  2. Sprinkle the pan-bottom evenly with the sugar. Wait for the sugar to caramelize. Be careful, since there is so little of it, it can go from caramelized to burnt quickly. As soon as the sugar has caramelized, add in the butter and swirl the pan so it combines with the sugar. As soon as the butter melts, fill the pan with escarole. Use tongs to turn it in the sugar butter, running the leaves across the pan bottom to “scrape” up any sugar stuck to the pan. Add the 2 tablespoons of wine, and scrape the pan bottom to loosen any sugar. Turn the leaves of escarole in the butter/sugar/combination. The escarole will wilt and the volume in the pan will shrink.
  3. Add the rest of the escarole and sprinkle with a pinch or two more sugar, then use tongs to turn the fresh escarole to the bottom of the pile. Cook, turning every so often, until the pile of escarole has wilted, and colored a little. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add the leeks back into the pan and use tongs to turn the mess and thoroughly combine the leeks and escarole.
  5. Drizzle in the tablespoon of vinegar at this point, using tongs, until everything has been run through the vinegar. The vinegar will add depth of flavor and a little tart/sour to the dish. Cook until most of the vinegar is gone and is starting to thicken. If you wish, add another tablespoon or two of butter to the pan bottom and swirl the pan until the butter has melted into a sauce. The leeks and escarole or ready to use/serve.


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