Leeks, white beans and French feta AND smoked eggplant-couscous croquettes

Leeks, white beans, & French feta

Leeks, white beans, & French feta

Back in the days before cable, when VCRs hadn’t yet been invented, there were a few movies my brother and I would watch every single time they came on television. (Which was maybe twice.) One such movie was Breaking Away. I hadn’t thought about it much in the intervening decades, but the other night we watched it again with the boys. Well! It’s a beautiful film! It’s beautifully filmed! It’s deceptively spare and simple in a manner that hides a genius of elegance and grace, which places it in the tradition of Ozu or Rohmer. The only non-diegetic music is a continuation of the Italian songs that Dave sings in his attempt to convince the world that he’s Italian. Much of the action seems to happen off-screen, between scenes, in best Ozu fashion. An entire romance and marriage takes place, and we feel real affection for the couple, though we only see them in a few scenes, in passing. The film is about one summer in the life of four teenagers, and it’s full of the kind of latent drama underlying every teenagers’ existence. At any minute they might dash their heads on a rock or crash their car or bike, or be crushed by a truck, they might fall out with friends they love, they might tear their family apart. Any of this could happen, and if this was any other kind of movie it probably would, but here it doesn’t, and this makes it feel more real, more like life. The film glows with a flat, pale, nostalgic light, like a dream of the late seventies, of the mid-west, which people have been trying to capture since in photo filters and iPhone apps. The film is sweet, smart, funny, thoughtful; it’s about infatuation and disillusion and the return of hope. It’s about friendship and family, imperfect and enduring. It’s about freedom and escape, and finding a way to achieve these things without leaving your home. And it’s about work, which makes it a good film to discuss after labor day weekend. The fathers of our four teenage friends were cutters, they cut limestone out of the quarries, and cut them into smooth rocks to build the local university. And now all they have left is a big hole in the ground where their boys swim, and a college full of teenagers who mock their boys. At one point Dave’s dad says he wants his son to find a job and be miserable just like he was. But we know he doesn’t really want his son to be unhappy, and we know that he enjoyed his work as a cutter: he was good at it, he took pride in his work. The boys have to decide what work they’ll do when the work that made their world isn’t an option any more. They have to make their own new world. Doesn’t it remind you of Seamus Heaney’s Digging?


    Between my finger and my thumb
    The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

    Under my window, a clean rasping sound
    When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
    My father, digging. I look down

    Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
    Bends low, comes up twenty years away
    Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
    Where he was digging.

    The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
    Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
    He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
    To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
    Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

    By God, the old man could handle a spade.
    Just like his old man.

    My grandfather cut more turf in a day
    Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
    Once I carried him milk in a bottle
    Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
    To drink it, then fell to right away
    Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
    Over his shoulder, going down and down
    For the good turf. Digging.

    The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
    Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
    Through living roots awaken in my head.
    But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

    Between my finger and my thumb
    The squat pen rests.
    I’ll dig with it.

Eggplant couscous croquettes

Eggplant couscous croquettes

Leeks! I just love them. I treated myself to some French feta, which is milder and creamier than most fetas I’ve had. I sauteed my leeks with white beans, white wine, thyme and capers, and then I crumbled the feta on top. Delicious!! We ate it with plain couscous. And later in the week I combined the leftover couscous and white beans with eggplant roasted until smooth and smoky and pureed with smoked gouda and bread crumbs. I fried this in olive oil as little croquettes, and served them with an impromptu dipping sauce of maple syrup, dijon mustard and tomato paste.

Here’s Kimya Dawson with I Like My Bike.


4 or 5 small leeks, trimmed, washed, white parts mostly
2 T butter
2 t fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup white wine (++)
2 t capers
1 can small white beans, rinsed and drained
squeeze of lemon or 1 t balsamic vinegar
salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper
crumble of French feta, to serve

Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and then into 1/4-inch slices.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the thyme and garlic, stir and fry for about a minute, then add the leeks. Stir and fry until the leeks begin to soften and brown, about five minutes.

Add the wine, beans and capers, and cook until the wine becomes reduced and syrupy, after a few minutes. Add enough water to make the dish as saucy as you like it, and a squeeze of lemon or dash of balsamic. Season with salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper, and serve over couscous with French feta crumbled on top and crusty bread to sop up the sauciness.


3 small eggplants
olive oil
1 cup cooked couscous
1 slice whole wheat bread
1 cup smoked gouda
1 egg
1 cup white beans (And leeks and white wine and capers if you have leftovers!!)
dash balsamic
salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper
olive oil for frying

Cut the eggplants in half and brush them with a little olive oil. Broil them very near to the heat until they’re soft inside and very browned on top. Set aside to cool slightly.

Combine the couscous, bread, gouda and egg in a food processor and process to combine–you don’t want it to be too smooth. Add the beans and balsamic, and process briefly to break them down slightly, again, you don’t want it to be too smooth.

In a wok or large saucepan, heat about 1/3 inch of olive oil until it’s hot enough to make a bread crumb sizzle. Drop the batter in by teaspoonfuls. Cook until well-browned on both sides and cooked through (they’ll be quite soft inside!). Drain on paper towels and serve with a sauce made of equal parts maple syrup and dijon mustard mixed with a little tomato paste.


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