Leeks are in the same vegetable family as onions, scallions, shallots and garlic, looking like a large scallion with flat, thick green leaves. They are usually 12 inches long, and are about 1 to 2 inches in diameter, and have a sweeter flavor than onions, so the delicateness will not be overpowering when used in other dishes.
According to World’s Healthiest Foods (WHFoods), leeks have a heritage that is native to Central Asia and were introduced to Europe thousands of years ago. The United Kingdom was one country where this hardy vegetable could thrive in spite of the cold weather.
Health and nutritional benefits
Leeks, like garlic and onions, are Allium vegetables and have been shown to lower blood pressure and total cholesterol levels, both of which can contribute to heart attack and stroke. WHFoods tells us that leeks also lower the LDL “bad” cholesterol level and raise the HDL “good” level, even though the compounds that do so (that are found in garlic and onions) are lesser in leeks, so need to be eaten for often for the same benefit.
Allium vegetables, have other health benefits. They are associated with reduced risk of colon, ovarian and prostate cancers.
Leeks are very low in calories, approximately 16 calories for 1/2 cup. They are also a very good source of manganese, and a good source of iron, folate, and vitamins C and B6, according to the Food Rating System Chart.
How to select and store
Leeks are at their peak season in fall and into early spring, though you can find them year-round. They should be firm when choosing them. The white portion should not be blemished, and the green portion should be dark and vibrant. Avoid yellowing leeks.
Wrapping fresh leeks in plastic will improve their storage life in the refrigerator by retaining moisture, but should be stored unwashed and untrimmed. Fresh leeks should be stored unwashed and untrimmed in the refrigerator. Cooked leeks can be frozen but the texture changes drastically.
Preparing and serving
Careful washing is important when preparing leeks because they capture a lot of soil. Trim the root section and a portion of the green and remove the outer layer of leaves. Then make a lengthwise cut to the centerline and unfold the leek, running it under water.
In recipes which call for leek rounds, first cut the leeks crosswise, then rinse several times and drain well.
WHFoods shares some simple ways to serve leeks:
-Sauté leeks in a bit of water or broth with fennel and garnish with thyme and lemon juice.
– Add leeks to omelets and frittatas.
-Add to broths or stews for flavor.
-Braise leeks and sprinkle with fennel seed and use as side dish with beef, poultry or fish.
Simple Braised Leeks
Adapted from Leek Recipes.org
4 lbs. leeks, trimmed, washed, and quartered lengthwise
1 tsp. olive oil
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 Tbsp. sugar
In a medium skillet with a lid, heat oil over medium heat. Add leeks and chicken broth; then cover and braise, stirring occasionally, for 12 minutes or until leeks are tender. Remove lid, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until broth has nearly evaporated. Increase heat to high and sprinkle sugar over leeks. Cook, stirring frequently, for another 10 minutes or until leeks are lightly caramelized. Serve immediately.
Grilled Braised Leeks
From FoodNetwork.com, and courtesy of Alton Brown
4 large leeks, dark green sections removed
2 tablespoons bacon drippings
Heavy pinch kosher salt
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Crumbled bacon and goat cheese, as an accompaniment, optional
Preheat grill to high. Cut each leek in half lengthwise and rinse thoroughly to remove all dirt and sand. Pat dry. Brush the cut side of each leek half with the bacon drippings and sprinkle with kosher salt. Grill over direct, high heat, cut side down, with lid closed, approximately 6 to 7 minutes or until grill marks appear. Remove the leeks to a sheet of aluminum foil and lay cut side up. Brush the leeks with balsamic vinegar. Reassemble the leek halves together, wrap tightly in foil, and set back on the grill away from direct heat for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the leeks from the foil and serve immediately, as is or with crumbled bacon and goat cheese.
Sausage and Leek Soup
Adapted from Mariquita Farms
1/2 lb. smoked sausage
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups cleaned and chopped leeks
2 Tbsp. chopped celery leaves
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup milk or half-and-half
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt, to taste
Slice sausage into thin slices. Heat oil in a large saucepan on medium heat. Add sausage, heat and stir for 3-4 minutes. Add chopped leeks, heat and stir for 5 minutes. Stir in celery, parsley and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and puree with hand blender or in food processor until smooth. Return to pot and over very low heat; stir in milk and gradually stir in Parmesan. Season to taste and serve hot.
World’s Healthiest Foods