Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Leek and Sweet Potato Gratin

A couple of days ago, I received my absolute favorite issue of Vegetarian Times each year: the January issue. I love January issues of most things because they figure everyone is on a diet now and recipes and articles tend to be health focused. Just being vegan does not automatically make you healthy. Contrary to the beliefs of many, you can be very unhealthy and get very fat as a vegan, just as you can as an omnivore. I find that many vegan recipes rely heavily on margarine, oils, fake cheese, nuts etc. All of these are fine in moderation, but not in large doses in my opinion. For this reason you will not see me whipping up big bad vegan chocolate cakes very often or dipping chips in big batches of cashew "cheese."

Anyway, in January Vegetarian times always has a lot of light, healthy recipes and I tend to like trying as many as possible. This dish, Leek and Sweet Potato Gratin, was my first new recipe of the new year and I'm very happy with the results. I did make a few adjustments to the original recipe, which are reflected below. This is a perfect side dish for a savory fall or winter meal. It would be great at Thanksgiving and ideal for entertaining. Tonight we actually paired it with a random assortment of leftovers because our poor little fridge is bursting at the seams with all the food I made over the long weekend. Not very glamorous, but practical nonetheless. First gather the ingredients:

1 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
4 medium leeks, white and light green parts
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 1/2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch thick slices
1/3 cup vegetable broth
3 Tbsp. Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Begin by cutting each leek lengthwise and then slicing rather thin crescents. I find that the only way to truly get a leek clean of sand and grit is to slice it and then soak it in a bowl of water. Try to break apart the layers with your hand while the leeks float around. The dirt will sink to the bottom and you can just grab the clean leeks out with your hands.

Heat 1/2 Tbsp. of olive oil in a skillet and add leeks, garlic and 1 1/2 Tbsp. of the rosemary. Saute for about 8-10 minutes until softened and season with salt and pepper. Take a 10-inch round casserole dish and spray it with cooking spray. Arrange 1/3 of the sweet potato slices on the bottom of the dish and top with 1/2 of the leek mixture. Repeat by making a second layer of sweet potatoes topped with the remainder of the leek mixture. Cover the leeks with a final layer of sweet potatoes and drizzle the vegetable oil over everything. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake in the over for about 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the breadcrumbs with 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil and the remaining 1 Tbsp. of rosemary. I didn't actually have Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs, so I mixed in a few appropriate Italian spices with my plain breadcrumbs. It worked just fine of course. After the 35 minutes, remove the foil and sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the entire dish. Return to the oven for an additional 15 minutes until the breadcrumbs are golden brown.

This dish was much more flavorful than I had expected. I worried that it might be a bit bland, but the sweet and savory combination worked extremely well. J had one suggestion which I liked very much, which was to add a few toasted slivers of almond to the topping as well. A little bit of crunch to add a different texture would probably enhance the dish, and the nutty flavor of almonds would work very well with the breadcrumbs. Next time I make it, I may add some almonds as well. Yum. Thanks Vegetarian Times, we are off to a good year together.

Nutrition Facts: 1 serving = 1/4 of recipe. 170 calories; 3.8 g fat (0.6 sat); 0 mg cholesterol; 78 mg sodium; 31.9 g carbohydrate; 4.5 g dietary fiber; 10.5 g sugars; 3.5 g protein; 386% Vitamin A; 44% Vitamin c; 9% Calcium; 12 % Iron.

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