Buttered leeks, salmon and dill with orzo: a healthy dish bursting with flavour

Lilly Higgins: Cooking buttered leeks with salmon brings out the sweetness in one another

At this time of year, my dad’s garden is full of late autumn raspberries, and the last of the greenhouse tomatoes and courgettes. The pumpkins are beginning to take shape, and so begins the endless march of leeks. At first they’re sweet and small. They barely need cooking and are delicious roasted whole.

Later on, as winter closes in, the leeks become sturdier and more pungent in flavour and smell. Either way, they are very valuable for stocks, soup and melting into stews in the slow cooker on a cold day. Leeks are so versatile, a wonderful allium to have. I always cook buttered leeks with salmon as the two go so well together. They bring out the sweetness in one another. A few cherry tomatoes make a lovely addition. Here I’ve used plenty of leafy dill. It really complements the buttery white wine sauce and brings a welcome freshness.

I usually serve this with pureed cauliflower but have used a different but equally delicious side this week. Orzo is such a pleasantly shaped pasta. It looks like rice and has the texture of pure comfort food. My children adore it and have been eating it since they were very little. Often when they are feeling tired or sick, they’ll request a bowl of orzo. It’s an effortless restorative carbohydrate that only needs a little salt in the water and a lick of melted butter to make it a meal.

I first came across it in Greece, served with beef stifado, tiny silverskin onions dotted around the slow-cooked beef stew kissed with cinnamon. It's still one of my favourite dishes.


I’ve cooked the salmon with white wine here, but as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, fish cooked with sambuca is amazing. Use any aniseed liqueur like arak, sambuca, ouzo or Pernod. With salmon, it’s particularly good with a few tomatoes and plump black olives. Great contrasting flavours all in harmony.

This dish works well when the orzo is served underneath the salmon and leeks, or I sometimes fold everything together gently with plenty of fresh dill. It’s delicious served warm like a pasta salad. If you are not able to source dill then fennel, tarragon or even flat leaf parsley will be fine.

Fennel grows so incredibly well here in Ireland, while I find dill a little more sensitive. Always be careful not to plant the two next to one another as they have a tendency to cross pollinate. Rub the freshly picked leaves between your fingers and smell to determine which is dill and which is fennel. My children have spent the summer with handfuls of herbs doing just that.


Serves four
3 tbsp butter 
2 leeks, washed and finely sliced 
100ml white wine or stock 
1 tsp Dijon mustard 
4 darnes of salmon, skin removed 
Small bunch fresh dill 
1 lemon 
Salt and black pepper 
To serve: cooked orzo

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.

2 Melt the butter in a pan, add the finely sliced leeks. Stir and place the lid on for the leeks to slowly steam and cook. Lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Add the mustard and season with salt and pepper.

3 Line a small tray with baking parchment. Add the leeks to the centre of the tray. Scatter with some fresh dill, reserving a little for garnish. Lay the salmon darnes on top and season with salt and pepper. Pour over the white wine. Squeeze over a little lemon juice. Fold up the sides of the parchment into a tight parcel. You could also cook this in a lidded casserole dish.

4 Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the salmon is cooked through. Carefully open the paper as the hot steam will escape. Squeeze over some fresh lemon juice and scatter with more dill.

5 Divide the cooked orzo into four bowls then top with the buttered leeks and salmon.