I decided to start a series of posts with (what I consider) exotic or non-traditional foods or ingredients, what they are, how they’re used and what you’re missing out on when you don’t branch out and try these!!
Yesterday I was shopping for some comfort food for my slightly sick hubby and I saw leeks on sale at Sprouts. I thought…well…I haven’t cooked with these in a while…why not?? Leeks are something I stayed far away from for a long time. I didn’t understand them. They were just too exotic for me. Or so I thought.
Here’s some cool facts about leeks you may not know
- They are part of the onion family
- They have a much milder onion flavor than green onions
- Leeks are in season from the fall through the early part of spring when they are at their best
- Leeks are a good source of vitamin C, iron, folate, vitamin B6 and manganese. They’re also a good source of fiber.
- The leek is the national symbol of Whales.
- Leeks were prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans and were especially revered for their beneficial effect upon the throat. The Greek philosopher Aristotle credited the clear voice of the partridge to a diet of leeks, while the Roman emperor Nero supposedly ate leeks everyday to make his voice stronger.
Britain holds a yearly competition and awards a prize to the largest leek, which can range from 4 to 5 inches in diameter.
The leek, Allium porrum, is a member of the onion family, but the flavor is much more refined, subtle, and sweet than the standard onion. Thought to be native to the Mediterranean area and Asia, leeks have been cultivated for more than 3,000 years and have long been popular in Europe.
The part of the leek that is grown under ground remains tender and white, while the part exposed to the sunlight becomes tough and fibrous and not very good eating. To maximize the edible part of the leek, farmers mound the dirt up around the sprouting plant; this keeps more of it underground and white, but also means that dirt often gets between the layers, so leeks need careful cleaning before cooking.
Leeks should be firm and straight with dark green leaves and white necks. They should not be yellowed or wilted, nor have bulbs that have cracks or bruises. You should purchase those that have a diameter of one and one-half inches or less because larger leeks tend to be more fibrous in texture.
Fresh leeks should be stored unwashed and untrimmed in the refrigerator, where they will keep fresh for one or two weeks. Leeks will exude an aroma that can be absorbed by other things in your refrigerator, so to store them before cooking, lightly wrap them in plastic wrap to contain the odor and moisture. Do not trim or wash before storing. Store in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator. Cooked leeks are highly perishable, and even when kept in the refrigerator, will only stay fresh for about two days.
Leeks are unfortunately not a good candidate for freezing or canning unless you plan on using them in soups or other recipes rather than as a main dish. Freezing tends to turn them to mush and lends a bitter taste. They may be frozen after being blanched for two to three minutes, although they will lose some of their desirable taste and texture qualities. If you decide to freeze leeks, cut into slices or whole lengths. Seal in airtight bags, freeze, and use within three months. To preserve flavor, do not thaw before cooking further.
Preparation and Cooking
Cut the dark green tops off first as they are not much use in cooking. I’ve never cooked with them (if you have, let me know how that turned out…). Then, cut the light green, yellow and white portion in half lengthwise. This will expose all the layers of the leeks. Then, separate the leeks and run under cold water until all of the sandy grit is removed (there is A LOT).
The alternative is to cut into rings, separate the rings and put in a bowl of water and swish them around. The sandy grit should sink to the bottom of the bowl and the leeks should float to the top.
(sorry I don’t talk in my videos. I hate my voice! yuk! 😉 )
I would recommend trying to add leeks to any dish where you would normally add onions. These are especially good substitutes for people who don’t usually care for onions since the flavor is much less bold than typical onions. They are great in stews, soups and sautéed dishes. I would not recommend eating them raw. As with any other types of onions, it is a good idea to let them sit for at least 5 minutes after cutting before you cook them. I’ve got a great recipe where I added them to a pot roast. They were wonderful!