Nuoc cham-caramelized leeks with shrimp

Leeks and shrimp, cookingEver since I arrived in California, I’ve been over-buying produce. That’s not to say that I’m wasting it—it’s quite possible that I’m eating a closer-to-vegetarian diet than I have ever eaten in my life—but it is requiring me to come up with interesting ways to use what I’ve got in fairly short order so I don’t end up with a full refrigerator of wilted, over-ripe, slightly moldy vegetables and fruits.

I also have a 15-minute commute to and from work. On foot. (I know, I know. Do you know how many people I know want to kick me in the knee just so I can feel the pain they feel when they hear this? Don’t think I don’t know how lucky I am…) That means that when I leave work in the evening, assuming I’m not on my way out to meet friends for dinner, I have the perfect window of time to evaluate what’s in the fridge and how I can combine it in the most tasty manner.

Earlier in the week, I’d mixed up a batch of nuoc cham, that godsend of a condiment served in all Vietnamese restaurants. Lydia of A Perfect Pantry inspired me to make it—I’ve been eating it for years and thinking it couldn’t be that hard to recreate at home, but it took me an awfully long time to actually try to do it. Now that I’ve done it once, I may never be able to go without having some in my refrigerator again. It’s that addictive. And that dead-easy to make.

I am also a huge fan of leeks, particularly when they’re roasted alongside a chicken, or caramelized, slowly, until they’re soft and sweet. Leek and potato soup is one of my favorites, and I adore braising them. I picked up some beautiful leeks at Friday’s Old Oakland Farmer’s Market, and decided, during my walk home, that tonight was the night they would give it up for the cause.

I caramelized them up in some local olive oil, then tossed in some of the leftover nuoc cham, which braised them just a bit before cooking down to a lovely sauce. Toward the end of the process, I tossed in some shrimp for protein’s sake, let them turn pink and opaque, and served it all up together. It was a simple, delicious combination that I plan to return to—a little bit sweet, and just barely savory from the chili-garlic sauce in the nuoc cham. If I make it again, the only thing I might try next time around is tossing in a little chili oil just to bump up the spicy side of the flavor combination. Otherwise, it’s all good.

Nuoc cham-caramelized leeks with shrimpNuoc cham-caramelized leeks with shrimp
(Serves four)

2 Tbsp. olive oil
8 leeks, trimmed (remove the ends and the tops) and sliced thinly
1/3 c. nuoc cham (See Lydia for the ideal recipe)
2 dozen uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined (Leave the tails on, if you’d like)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan.
  2. Add the sliced leeks and turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook the leeks, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and caramelized, approximately 40 minutes. At the 30-minute mark, add salt and pepper and taste. Adjust seasonings if need be.
  3. Once the leeks are caramelized, add the nuoc cham. Continue cooking until the sauce is reduced by at least half and is fully coating the leeks.
  4. Add the shrimp to the pan and cook, stirring every minute or so, for approximately five minutes or until the shrimp are opaque and pink. Be careful not to overcook.
  5. Serve immediately. For a prettier presentation, serve the shrimp on top of a bed of the leeks.

This is my contribution for this week’s version of Weekend Herb Blogging, which is hosted this week by Astrid of Paulchen’s FoodBlog. Please stop by later in the weekend to read the full round-up!

14 Responses to “Nuoc cham-caramelized leeks with shrimp”

  1. 1 Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) June 13, 2008 at 7:39 am

    Oh, Genie, I am sooooo happy you have fallen in love with this version of nuoc cham! And I love how you’ve used it in this recipe — you know I am going to try this as soon as I get some leeks at the market.

  2. 2 Alanna June 13, 2008 at 10:27 am

    Okay you two, I’m off to the intl market NOW. There’s no getting out of your inspiration.

    G ~ Looks like you set off for high ground just in time. Yikes.

  3. 3 inadvertentgardener June 13, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    Lydia, you’re the inspiration! I hope you like the recipe, too. :-)

    Alanna, yeah…I’m very grateful I got out of Dodge when I did…and I want to hear how the recipe works for you!

  4. 4 kate June 13, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    This sounds delicious and easy. I will have to check out Lydia’s blog for the recipe. It’s great that you live so close to work. You’ve done good!

  5. 5 inadvertentgardener June 13, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    Kate, I highly recommend the recipe — definitely do check it out! It’s good stuff. And yes — I’m quite pleased with where I am!

  6. 6 Peg June 14, 2008 at 6:35 am

    Genie – I’m enjoying reading about your new adventures, and if you haven’t seen pictures from Iowa you should check it out. It’s really nearly unbelievable how wide spread the flooding is. After suffering through this winter with us, at least you escaped before the floods came.

  7. 7 Kalyn June 14, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Sounds just wonderful. Now I am going to confess something shocking. I’ve never cooked leeks, not even once. NO idea why not and I must remedy that!

  8. 8 inadvertentgardener June 14, 2008 at 11:37 am

    Peg, I’ve been watching those pictures avidly…and with great sadness. I feel lucky to have escaped pre-flood, but my heart breaks for the place I made my home.

    Kalyn, definitely remedy it — leeks rule!

  9. 9 Sharon June 15, 2008 at 9:18 am


    Glad to see you are enjoying the bounty of California. When we moved here, almost 20 years ago, we joked that we moved here for the fruit. That was only half true. We moved here for the veggies, too.

    Hope to see you someday.

  10. 10 inadvertentgardener June 19, 2008 at 9:50 pm

    Sharon, it’s definitely worth moving here for the fruit AND the veggies! We also need to get together — I know I owe you an email, and we will make it happen — I promise!

  11. 11 Jude June 25, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    I’ll have to admit I haven’t cooked leeks in a while. Looks like I found the next recipe for me to try.

  12. 12 inadvertentgardener June 28, 2008 at 11:04 am

    Jude, I recommend giving it a try — hope you like it!

  13. 13 Dionnamligo January 5, 2010 at 8:46 am

    polite answers i like it

  1. 1 Weekend Herb Blogging #137 - the round up *finally* | Paulchens FoodBlog?! Trackback on June 23, 2008 at 3:45 am

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