Baby leeks in saffron vinaigrette with hazelnut crumbs

Baby leeks in saffron vinaigrette with hazelnut crumbs

New Feast
Alan Benson

There are few things nicer on a warm day than tender poached leeks in a tangy mustard vinaigrette with lots of crusty bread for mopping the plate clean. In this Middle Eastern-inspired version, a robust saffron-and-spicespiked vinaigrette is definitely king, flooding the plate with liquid gold, while the crunchy breadcrumbs are the crowning glory.


Quantity Ingredient
a handful hazelnuts
400g baby leeks
1 garlic clove
a few sprigs thyme
3 generous tablespoons butter
50g coarse fresh breadcrumbs
big pinch turkish red chilli flakes
freshly ground black pepper

Saffron vinaigrette

Quantity Ingredient
10-15 saffron threads
2 tablespoons champagne or good-quality white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon white wine
1 teaspoon honey
2 spring onions, very finely diced
1 garlic clove, crushed to a paste with ½ teaspoon salt
big pinch turkish red chilli flakes
1 sprig thyme, leaves only
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon white peppercorns
125ml extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste


  1. To make the saffron vinaigrette, combine the saffron, vinegar, wine and honey in a small saucepan. Heat gently until the honey has dissolved, then add the spring onion, garlic, red chilli flakes and thyme leaves. Pour into a jar with a lid and leave to cool.
  2. Combine the coriander and fennel seeds and the peppercorns in a small dry frying pan and cook over a medium heat for 3–4 minutes, until lightly toasted and aromatic. Crush roughly in a mortar then add them to the saffron infusion, along with the olive oil and lemon juice. Shake vigorously then taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking.
  3. In the same pan, dry-fry the hazelnuts for 4–5 minutes, or until the skins darken and they start to smell toasty. Tip into a tea towel and rub away the skins. Chop the nuts roughly and set aside.
  4. Trim and clean the leeks well, making sure you wash away any lingering bits of soil. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add the leeks, garlic and thyme. Poach for 4–5 minutes (8–10 if they are larger), or until tender. Drain well then pat them dry with kitchen paper.
  5. Transfer the leeks to a serving platter and, while they are still hot, spoon over enough saffron vinaigrette to moisten, but not drown them. Leave them to cool to room temperature.
  6. Heat the butter in the same pan and, when it’s sizzling, add the breadcrumbs and chilli flakes and fry until they are golden brown and crunchy. Add the chopped hazelnuts and fry for another minute. Season, to taste, then tip the hot crumbs over the leeks and serve straight away.


  • Leftover vinaigrette will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for 3–4 days. It makes a delicious dressing for cooked vegetables salads – especially artichokes or asparagus – and adds a classy touch to a humble potato salad.
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