Poor man’s asparagus

Poor man’s asparagus – that’s what the French used to think about Leeks. Well peurph, bish and tosh to the French!

Whether leeks are a poor man’s asparagus or not  and leaving the French out of the equation how often do you make a dish where Leeks are the focus? To answer to my own question – rarely. They tend to be part of a dish to enhance the flavours, I see them as a vegetable to start a soup or risotto with and not the star of the show; time to change those lazy thoughts and use our imaginations.

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I find the hardest part of the veggie gardening year is January and February when the winter vegetables are petering out and the new season veggies have yet to make a start. The flow of fresh greens gradually dwindles but I can rely on Leeks to provide me with fresh pickings from the allotment.  Home grown Leeks are sturdy souls both pungent and delicious. Think of them as a gardener’s friend – they take little or no effort, seem to have few if any predators and withstand all weathers. Perfect for time poor gardeners like me.

All of which brings me round to today’s recipe. Years ago a Dutch friend prepared an asparagus dish in what she described as both a classic Dutch recipe and her favourite way to eat Asparagus. I’ve never forgotten how good that Asparagus tasted and having recently come across a Sophie Grigson recipe that she calls Poor Man’s Asparagus I was instantly reminded of my friend’s recipe. So while the Asparagus has a way to go before I can pick those first tender spears, I’ll happily substitute Leeks and give the imported Asparagus a miss.

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Grigson’s recipe is like the Dutch version in that the Asparagus spears are served with chopped boiled egg, parsley and a vinaigrette.  This recipe is simple, cheap, seasonal and can be made in advance – the leeks are best served at room temperature. The recipe is perfect as a starter, a light lunch or a side dish; what better way to celebrate one of the vegetable garden’s unsung heroes?

Poor Man’s Asparagus

Based on a Sophie Grigson recipe for 2 servings


  • 2 leeks trimmed, washed and cut in half down the middle to make 4 smaller pieces
  • 1 hard boiled egg
  • 1 tbs chopped parsley


  • 1 ½ tbs olive oil
  • ½ tbs white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped very finely (optional)


  • Hard boil an egg, cool and shell it and leave it to one side.
  • In a small bowl make the vinaigrette by mixing the olive oil, white wine vinegar, mustard adding salt and pepper to taste.
  • Steam or microwave the leeks until they are cooked and tender – I microwave mine in a 900W microwave on full heat for 1 minute and 20 seconds – the times will vary based on how fresh and big the leeks are
  • While the Leeks are still warm arrange them on a serving dish and pour over the dressing, turn the leeks gently over in the dressing to make sure they are well coated.
  • In a separate bowl mash the egg into fine crumbs with a fork.
  • When you are ready to serve, scatter the pieces of egg on top off the Leeks and then sprinkle the chopped parsley over the top.

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    • I think it was the simplicity that appealed most to me – no special ingredients or fancy stuff to do – nice and simple is a winner on a busy day!

  • This looks fabulous Claire, and I’m looking forward to picking my (Dutch) mum’s brain in the morning to find out more about this dish! It sounds beautiful and your leek version looks gorgeous (especially love the plate you’ve served it up on too). I’ve never served up leek as the star but it deserves its place in the limelight.

    • would love to hear what your mum says! I’m trying to think back to my friend’s version and I wonder if she used a light oil (not olive) and added a touch of sugar to the vinaigrette….?

      • My mum knows this dish very well Clare! Had a lovely chat with her about it. She hasn’t made it for a long time and was glad to be reminded of it – her recipe also used steamed asparagus (white if available), chopped boiled eggs and parsley; but was drizzled with melted butter infused with nutmeg; and topped with rolls of thin ham! I think yours sounds a tad healthier! 🙂
        She was intrigued with the idea of using leek. I’m going to give your recipe a burl. Will report back.

        • Your mum’s version sounds delectable and of course she would use white asparagus, it’s so much more popular on continental Europe, and the addition of nutmeg into the butter takes it to another level 🙂
          I’m very overdue a visit to the Netherlands (my best mate lives there) and my other favourite is popping to a bar for a cold beer and having bitterbollen…. happy days 🙂
          Hope you like the leek version!

  • Sounds a great dish – might try this out later today instead of the leek and potato soup I was going to make.

    I’d always been under the impression that leeks were hard to grow but I have plenty of seed packets donated by a friend and space for them now! So, I think I will give them a whirl 🙂

    • I’ve always found leeks a no fuss veggie to grow, when in the summer months you are racing around picking courgettes, netting things, watering and generally going “what the heck” the leeks will sit happily by themselves getting on with the job of growing with little (and often no) help from yours truly! and the taste is a wow too 🙂

  • You’re right – leeks are more of a supporting ingredient rather than a leading lady! But with such a good recipe to showcase their talents… things may be about to change for the leek

  • I’ve never made leeks the star, just the understudy. I’ll have to change that…they sound good served with the vinaigrette.

  • You’re right, I have never used leeks as anything other than a complementary ingredient. As a stand alone, it never occurred to me.

  • My mother in law is French and she likes to make this dish with cooked leek and a vinaigrette (poireaux à la vinaigrette), very, very good indeed!
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Ooh that looks good – although I could probably eat a couple of leeks all to myself! And if you served me this dish with that gorgeous chunky dish underneath I might have to come round with my extra large handbag so that I could steal it 😉

    • I had these to myself – I was home alone! And chuffed you like the platter thingy – remind me to frisk you next time I see you round here 🙂

  • Marcus Didius Falco, introduced me to leeks, Falco was an ancient Roman and his grandfather was a market gardener. I use leeks in almost everything now, particularly anything that requires onions. Thanks for the recipe. And ps, I agree, with you – tosh and bosh to asparagus.

    • That’s fascinating, as when I was looking up the history of leeks the Romans were mentioned and it was the Romans who introduced the Leeks to the British Isles…..
      And thanks for your comments, I hope you enjoy the recipe

  • I discovered leeks ten years back after coming to the US, and have been fascinated with their depth of flavor ever since! And your interesting recipe with hard-boiled eggs and vinaigrette is a must-try:)

    • I love hearing about food discoveries, one of my favourites and funniest (in my mind) was some colleagues from Tamil Nadu who discovered the British version of baked potatoes with grated cheese 🙂 Possibly not the best culinary example, but a classic in it’s own right 🙂

  • You are right, leeks should occasionally be given a lead role! This sounds like a delicious dish Claire. I remember having them in cheese sauce once, many years ago. I don’t grow them , but there some lovely tender ones in our little organic shop at the moment. 😀

  • I had no idea leeks were easy to grow! I might give it a go the leeks I find are expensive here. Adore the splendid recipe, easy and scrumptious with flavor!

    • I wonder why they are expensive? I find cauliflowers in France prohibitively expensive 🙂
      For growing them I do very little, and I mean very little. I start them off in a medium sized pot with compost, water and wait, when they are about 6 inches tall (and still very thin) I plant them out in any old soil. water in well and sit back. Some people earth them up, I don’t usually bother. I guess in your climate they would need more watering and I’d plant them so they come into their own over winter. Good luck my friend!!!

  • thanks Claire … it is almost lunchtime here and leeks look like the perfect thing … have to go out into the garden and see if there are any ready!

  • Leeks have always been an integral part of my culinary life! Don’t give ‘star’ roles to any ingredient – for me to feel ‘safe’ there always have to be a few leeks in my fridge all seasons of the year and they are usually the second ingredient after garlic for which I reach . . . hate to tell you I have even poked them ‘raw’ into my N European open morning sandwiches if I do not have scallions domiciled!

    • I’m imagining raw leeks in an egg mayo sandwich, so now I HAVE to try that as for some reason I hadn’t ever thought about using them raw….. so thank you !

  • I’ve never heard leeks referred to as poor man’s asparagus. How interesting! I love leeks, and use them often in soup or sautéed with eggs. This is a fantastic recipe and I like having a little backstory to go with it. This could become a favorite, Claire!

  • I love leeks and have never heard that the French consider them like this. Just spotted a nice recipe by Silvana de Soisson (The Foodie Bugle) with leeks and scallops – so now I have two recipes to try. Thanks for sharing! Has the skiing been good?

    • I hadn’t heard the expression before either, I do wonder if it’s a bit of poetic license? and leeks and scallops – I ADORE scallops. And lucky for me my local fishing fleet bring them in by the bucket load when in season so I’m off to check out your recommendation, thank you Annette

      • Wow, that’s great – one of the advantages of living by the sea. My husband tells me that salsify and Swiss chard are also called poor man’s asparagus 😉

  • Can’t see in your photo that you cut those leeks down the middle lengthwise. Won’t they fall apart into multi-layers if cooked after cutting? Maybe I should cook them and then cut them in half. I can’t wait to try this recipe. 🙂

  • It sounds and looks delicious! I love leeks, though I usually use it in soups and not as the star of its own dish. I should give it more attention in my cooking. Thanks!

  • Claire, do you grow perennial leeks? I think the variety you have in the UK are called Babington leeks? We planted 7 little seedlings in our garden years ago, and we’ve been awash in perennial leeks ever since. They’re a bit seasonal, so at the moment, they’re all skinny, but they always come back and reproduce madly. We LOVE leeks, although I’ve never heard them called poor man’s asparagus! Will have to try your recipe, thank you! xx

  • I have never really liked leaks, I think of them as a substitute for green onions, but maybe that is uninformed. This dish looks interesting, though.

  • I use leeks in soups a lot but would never thought of eating them alone. Alas, I think they are more expensive than asparagus here, so perhaps they’d be rich man’s asparagus for me (or I should try the sauce on asparagus–spring will come…)

    • This is strange news to me – that leeks could be more expensive than asparagus, I wonder why? and the sauce definitely works well with asparagus – and I’m hoping my little asparagus patch will do well this year, fingers crossed!

  • I buy leeks all the time and I love them loads, though I haven’t made that dish and it sounds just the thing to try next. Made some fab cheese and leek topped lunch toasts this week, from Hugh FW’s veg cook book which went down well, and sometimes I put them in quiches. My mother used to do a dish which involved par cooking the leeks and then wrapping them in ham and smothering them in cheese sauce with breadcrumbs on the top, finished in the oven. A strange dish, not one I have ever wanted to replicate. Something about the cheesy sauce against the squeaky whole leeks was always a bit well, squeaky… 🙂 🙂

    • Hugh FW’s veg cook is excellent isn’t it – full of ideas. I also really like sophie Grigson’s Vegetable Bible – also packed full of ideas and recipes.
      and funnily enough I remember the same dish of leeks wrapped in ham and smothered in cheese sauce – an 80s classic I think!!

  • Not sure how many poor people can afford leeks in Toronto, they are really expensive sometimes. I usually buy them when they go on sale and slice them thinly and freeze and a bag, that way I can easily pry away what I need when I need it. Your recipe sounds wonderful, most often the best way to showcase a single ingredient is with simplicity and this recipe follows that method. I like the addition of the hard boiled egg too, to have the flavour in every bite sounds perfect.
    PS I love your flatware, are they comfortable to use? Sometimes I find the really interesting ones are really difficult to use.

  • I’ve unsuccessfully tried to grow leeks…to damp and to shady, but I do love them and usually feature them in soups. Never heard of them referred to as the poor man’s asparagus nor would I compare them to that veg in any way. But I do love your preparation here where they are clearly the delicious star of the show!

    • What a shame you can’t grow them, they are so tasty fresh, but I’m sure there are more than enough delights for you to grow or buy locally they make up for them!

  • How interesting to hear you say leeks are easy to grow. They have always seemed so exotic to me. Perhaps it’s time to give them another go. (That first time they came to naught.) I’ve got some in the fridge looking for a dish to enhance. No more! They shall sally forth in their own glory.

  • I always call it poireau, not Poirot like Hercule! 🙂 I use it a lot, no vegetable soup without it! 🙂 friendly and sunny greetings from Toulouse, France! cheers, Mélanie
    * * *
    P.S. 44 Classic French Meals You Need To Try Before You Die… 🙂

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