Meatless Monday (Tuesday): Garlic Leek and Flageolet Soup

What the heck is Barbara on about now, readers are wondering?

Not only is she a day late and a dollar short, she’s nattering on about garlic leeks.

What are garlic leeks, anyway? Well, depending on which way you look at it, they’re either garlic or leeks or both, but it’s not likely you’ll find them in a grocery store. Nope. More likely, they’ll be at a farmer’s market, and only in the early spring, when the green garlic is in season.

Now, THAT should give you a clue as to the identity of my garlic leeks. They’re only around during the season of green garlic–which is to say in the spring, when the garlic shoots are up before they form heads. Green garlic looks rather like scallions, and is about the size of large scallions, and tastes just like garlic, but milder.

Garlic leeks–well, they look just about like a leek. Okay, no just about about it–they look exactly like leeks, only the dark green parts of the leaves are more tender.

Give up? The truth is, these garlic leeks are green elephant garlic. Just like their smaller green garlic cousins, the green elephant garlic looks nothing at all like a garlic, but the scent of it gives it away. There’s not even a hint of leek’s subtle onion fragrance–just a whisper, a tantalizing freshness of baby garlic.

For the record, elephant garlic is not truly a garlic, but is more closely related to leeks. So their morphological similarities make perfect sense. But, even though elephant garlic is basically a sort of leek, it lacks the flavor and scent of leeks entirely, and eventually, forms huge bulbs made of amazingly large individual cloves that taste like a milder, more tame version of garlic.

Rich Tomsu of Rich Gardens Organic Farm brought his garlic leeks to my attention last Saturday at the Athens Farmer’s Market. He and Ann are trying something new–this is the first time they’ve harvested green elephant garlic and marketed them as a type of leek–and he wanted me to try them and let them know what I thought of them. So, of course, I bought a couple and promised to use them just as I would use leeks in a recipe and get back to him on how they performed.

Of course I brought some home, intending to use them in a soup that I would usually cook with leeks to see how similar and different these garlic leeks would be in the kitchen.

The first soup that came to mind for me was a flageolet bean soup that I usually cook with ham, and garnish with sauteed mushrooms and kale. (Flageolet are beautiful pale celedon green colored beans from France that are traditionally used in cassoulet. They are tender, sweet and partially break down when cooked with plenty of liquid. If you cannot find them, you can use navy beans, but they aren’t nearly as nice.)

This time around, however, I went totally vegetarian and made the soup with a mushroom-based broth which I spiked with dry sherry and let the garlic leeks be the main flavoring.

I still used the mushroom and lacinato kale garnish, and the soup turned out to be just as tasty and delicious as it is with its usual ham. If I were to choose between them, I believe I’d pick this version as my favorite–the garlic leeks, like regular leeks, after cooking in the soup, partially broke down along with the flageolet beans and made a thick, unctuous broth.

The leeks also gave the soup a deep, sweet fragrance that was both garlicky and leekish–and utterly divine. Even Zak liked it well enough for two servings, and Morganna and Brittney ate the half-pot I gave them for three days running with great glee and gusto. Kat eyed it suspiciously at first, but after taking a tiny sip of the broth, was convinced to eat an entire small bowl of it by herself.

So, the next time I see Rich, I have to tell him his garlic leeks are a definite hit, and then, I’ll have to buy some more and figure out other great dishes in which to cook them!

Garlic Leek and Flageolet Soup

10 dried shiitake (Chinese black) mushrooms
1 quart boiling water
2-3 large garlic leeks
2 tablespoons butter, ghee or olive oil
2 stalks of celery, strings removed, then thinly sliced
3 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
3/4 cup dry sherry
1 pound flageolet beans, picked over and rinsed
water as needed
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves, crumbled
2 tablespoons butter or ghee
3-6 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps cut into thin slices
1/2 pound lacinato kale, leaves washed, dried and cut into thin slices across the central vein
salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon each fresh thyme and rosemary leaves


Put dried shiitake mushrooms into a large bowl and cover with the boiling water. Cover the bowl with a plate and set aside to steep for at least twenty minutes, while you prep the rest of the ingredients. When finished steeping, remove the mushrooms, squeeze the liquid out of them and set them aside. Strain the liquid and reserve it. Remove the mushroom stems and cut the caps into thin slices.

Clean the garlic leeks: cut them in half from the root end to the stem end. Rinse in cold water, using your thumb to separate the layers of the white and light green parts a bit to let the water into all of them as deeply as possible so as to flush out as much grit as possible. Rinse well and let dry before slicing thinly up to the dark green part of the leaves. Discard the tough darker green parts.

Melt the first measure of butter, ghee or olive oil in a heavy deep soup pot over medium heat. Add the leek slices and cook, stirring, until they turn a nice golden, lightly browned color. Add the celery and carrots at this point, as well as the bay leaves, and keep stirring and cooking until the leeks are a dark golden brown with some darker spots, the celery has turned golden and the carrots are starting to look slightly translucent. Add the sliced rehydrated mushroom caps, and cook, stirring for another minute before adding the sherry. Allow the alcohol go cook off, then add the mushroom broth, the tarragon and the beans. Add water to just cover the beans in about 3/4 of an inch of water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, cover the pot and simmer until the beans are done, adding water as necessary.

While the soup is cooking, melt the second measure of butter, ghee or oil in a heavy saute pan. Add the fresh mushrooms, and cook, stirring and tossing until the mushrooms are softened, fragrant and golden in color. Add the kale, and cook, stirring, until the leaves wilt and the shade of green deepens and brightens considerably. Add the fresh herbs as soon as the kale is done and remove from the fire, stirring to combine everything well.

When the beans are finished cooking, scrape the contents of the saute pan into the soup pot and stir. Bring to a simmer once more, then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then, serve it forth!

1 Comment

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  1. Hello
    thank you for the info on this amazing “farmer’s market isle” item.. Got a recommendation from my farmer(tallahassee) about these just over a week ago– bought a few from him, prepared with adherence to his specifications, and thoroughly enjoyed!
    And to my surprise, that dangle-y root end has got to be the best friggen part by far! Your picture has them prep’d and sliced off… leave them on next time

    Comment by Ryan — February 17, 2012 #

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