Leeks are related to the onion and garlic, and are believed to be beneficial to lowering cholesterol levels, improving the immune system, and fighting cancers. Leeks are an excellent addition to any savory dish or soup, and can be eaten raw, boiled, or fried in a variety of ways.
Ah, the lovely leek! This somewhat strange looking root is related to the onion and garlic. The bulbs and light green leaves are the edible parts of the leek, with the characteristic fragrant flavor similar to the onion. Wild leeks are smaller and have a stronger, more intense flavor.
Archaeology has show that leeks were part of the ancient Egyptian diet, and the leek is native to central Asia and Europe. Leeks were prized by the Greeks and Romans for the benefits they gave to healing the throat. It may have been the Romans who were responsible for introducing the leek to England, where the plant flourished in cold weather. The leek is the national emblem of the country of Wales, where is enjoys an esteemed status.
Nutritionally, the leek is similar to the onion. They are high in vitamin B6, C, and folic acid, manganese, iron, and a good source of fiber. Although very similar to onions and garlic, the leek is less dense, so larger quantities of it must be consumed to gain the same health benefits as the onion and garlic. The leek's nutritional contribution is believed to result in lower cholesterol levels, to improve the immune system, and fight cancers.
When selecting leeks, look for broad, dark, solid leaves and thick white neck and bulb about 1" in diameter. Larger sized leeks may be more fibrous. When cooking them, remember to get plants of equal sizes so they will cook the same.
Leeks are available throughout the whole year, however, they are in greater supply from fall to early spring, as they grow well in colder weather.
Store leeks unwashed and untrimmed in the refrigerator where they will stay fresh for up to 2 weeks. They can be wrapped loosely in plastic to retain their moisture. Once cooked, leeks are highly perishable, so even refrigerated they will only stay fresh up to 2 days. Leeks can also be blanched (2-3 min.) and stored in the freezer although this will cause them to lose some of their flavor and texture. Frozen this way, they will keep for up to 3 months.
When preparing leeks, wash them in cold water to remove all the dirt. Trim the little rootlets, remove the outer layer and make a lengthwise incision to the centerline of the plant. Fold it open and rinse in cold water before cooking. For cross-sections, cut the plant into desired pieces then rinse with cold water in a collander before cooking. Leeks can be boiled, fried, or eaten raw.
Leeks enjoy a very long history, and as a result, there are an unlimited amount of delicious recipes that feature or include the humble leek. It's aromatic tastiness and versatile usefulness makes them a great addition to any dish you would add onions and/or garlic to also.
Here are some great ideas for using this valuable vegetable:
--Use leeks like onions or garlic for flavor and seasoning in any dish.
--Chop leeks into your garden salads, soups, omelettes, and sauces.
--Lightly saute leeks with fennel 3-4 minutes. Garnish with fresh lemon juice and thyme to eat.
--Braise leeks, sprinkled with fennel or mustard seeds. This is a good side dish for fish, poultry, or steak.
--Make cock-a-leekie soup--a Scottish soup with leeks and chicken stock garnished with a julienne of prunes.
--Make a vichyssoise--a cold soup of pureed cooked leeks and potatoes.
A note of caution about leeks---if you have oxalate-containing kidney stones, use leeks with caution as they contain a small amount of oxalate.
The leek may be a simple vegetable, and it surely doesn't grab your attention at the grocery store, for sure, but it is a very beneficial addition to our diet. So, pick some up today and even if you don't know what to do with them right away, leave them alone in your refrigerator. I'm sure, sooner or later, they will call out to you to chop them up and add them to your next delicious homemade soup on one of those soon-to-be cool autumn days.
Leslie Pryor is a published author, teacher, and freelance writer. My published book is titled: "In Search Of . . . Wisdom The Principle Thing." View these websites for more information: www.lspryor.com and www.wisdomtheprinciplething.com.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods by Michael Murray, N.D. 2005.