The Chef: Alex Raij
Her Restaurants El Quinto Pino, Txikito, La Vara, and Saint Julivert Fisherie, all in New York City.
What She’s Known For Regional-Spanish cooking that honors tradition while embracing creativity. Flavor over frippery.
TO HEAR Alex Raij tell it, growing up in Minnesota, not Madrid, gave her an edge in the Spanish kitchen. “I enjoy a freedom Spanish chefs don’t,” she said. “I’ll make a dish taste fresher or cleaner if I know it improves it.”
She found the inspiration for this velvety leek soup—garnished with a crisp toast round, smoked trout and snipped chives—in a Basque stew of leeks, cod and potatoes. “But this recipe is about celebrating a singular ingredient, the leek,” said Ms. Raij.
She likes to use a subtle Japanese dashi to simmer the leeks. “It’s respectful of the other ingredients,” she said. Dashi is easy to make if you have kombu and bonito flakes in the pantry, and pre-made versions are available at many supermarkets. Otherwise, vegetable or chicken stock will work too. Once the vegetables soften and flavor the broth, just purée and garnish. “The trout is nice and easy. But you can also serve this without garnishes, or with caviar,” Ms. Raij said.
This soup was adapted from one in “The Basque Book,” authored by Ms. Raij with her husband, Eder Montero, and the writer Rebecca Flint Marx, . The simplest of recipes, it delivers deep, pure flavors. “Elevating a stone soup with so few ingredients is very Basque,” she said. “This is the lens I’m seeing things through.”
TOTAL TIME: 35 minutes SERVES: 4
5 medium leeks
7 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 Spanish onions, diced
1 bay leaf
1½ cups sake or dry white wine
1 cup peeled, diced daikon
7 cups dashi or light chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 thin baguette slices
1 cup flaked smoked trout
3 tablespoons minced chives or parsley
1. Remove dark-green tops of leeks and discard or save for another use. Slice white and pale-green parts into ¼-inch rounds and rinse thoroughly. Set ¼ cup sliced leeks aside.
2. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add remaining leeks, onions, bay leaf and a generous pinch of salt. Sauté until vegetables soften but do not take on color, 5 minutes. Add wine and simmer until alcohol cooks off, 5 minutes. Add daikon radishes and simmer until edges soften, 3 minutes.
3. Add dashi to pot and simmer until daikon is fork-tender and broth is flavorful, 20 minutes. Remove bay leaf and season with salt. Purée until smooth. Keep warm.
4. Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add reserved leeks and sauté until softened and lightly caramelized, 5 minutes. Add butter and cook until melted, 1 minute. Season with salt. Toast baguette slices and brush with 1 tablespoon oil.
5. To serve, ladle hot soup into bowls and top with toasts, smoked trout, sautéed leeks and chives. Drizzle with oil and serve immediately.