Leek - Our Vegetable of the Month

Leeks contain high amounts of manganese, vitamin K, B6 and 9, A, C, D and iron. They have a mild onion taste and are often used to flavour stocks. All parts are edible from the base to the green leaves but they require longer to cook and may retain their tough texture.

Vegetable Origins & Varieties  

Leek: Allium ampeloprasum. Liliaceae

Leeks are a member of the onion family. The Egyptians held the leek to be a sacred plant and to swear on a leek was the equivalent to swearing by one of their gods. Wales and those of Welsh origin celebrate the life of their patron saint, St David on March the first each year. Many people pin a daffodil or leek to their clothes in honour of the saint.  In the northeast of Britain giant leek competitions still thrive.  Leeks grow biennially but we gardeners grown them as an annual although we do save some into their second year to collect their seeds. Bees absolutely love the large pom-pom flower heads. 

Growing tips & Harvesting

We sow leek seeds in either seedbeds or in deep pots then transfer them into their final growing space. A good trick when planting them out is to make a hole about 15cm deep with a broom handle then drop the leek seedling (which should be about the size of a pencil) into the hole first trimming off half of the leaf length. When the seedling is in the hole then fill the hole with water, this collapses the soil softly around the seedling and gives you a longer blanched white stem.

We usually grow the variety Musselburgh but this year we tried a new variety called Northern Lights that have stunning blue/purple leaves which should add more colour to our winter vegetable plots.

Storing & Preparation

After harvesting leeks are best kept in a cool, dark, place. Leeks can accumulate a lot of soil between their leaves so should be washed thoroughly prior to cooking. Either run a knife down them length ways, if keeping whole, or cut into rounds. Run under cold water to remove the soil, checking under all leaves.

Leeks are usually chopped into 1-3 cm rounds before being boiled or fried, though they can also be roasted or eaten raw.

My favorite Recipes

 

Melted Leeks with Cheddar on Toast

Serves 4

450g leeks (once prepared - root and dark leaves removed)

30g butter plus a drop of olive oil to stop the butter burning

Salt & pepper

A bunch or parsley or chervil - finely chopped

8 slices of good quality brown bread

150g cheddar grated

  1. Cut the leeks into 1 centimeter rounds.
  2. Melt the butter with a drop of oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a medium heat, add the leeks and stir.  Season with salt and pepper and then cover the leeks with grease proof paper and a tight fitting lid. 
  3. Reduce the temperature to low and cook for 10 minutes until the leeks are soft. Stir them every so often. Stir in the chopped parsley or chervil.
  4. Lightly toast the slices of brown bread. Top the slices of bread with the leeks and a generous sprinkling of cheddar. Grill for two or three minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling. 

Serve with a grind of black pepper on top and a fresh green salad.

Leek & Potato Soup with Crispy Sage (Vegan)

Serves 4 

2 tbsps olive oil

10 sage leaves finely chopped plus 8 extra whole leaves for garnish

110g onion (diced - 1cm cubes)

250g leeks (once prepared - root and dark leaves removed - cleaned and sliced into 1cm rounds)

300g potatoes (peeled and diced - 1 cm cubes)

1 litre vegetable stock

  1. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onions, finely chopped sage and leeks to the pan, stir well and add the seasoning. 
  2. Turn the heat down to low and cover. Cook for about 10 minutes stirring every so often until the leeks and onions are soft.
  3. Add the chopped potatoes and cook over a low heat for another 5 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and turn up the heat to bring the soup to a simmer. Continue to cook until the potatoes are soft, about 10 minutes.
  4. Puree the soup using a blender. Taste and adjust the seasoning and thin with a little extra vegetable stock if needed.
  5. In a small frying pan heat the other tablespoon of olive oil. When very hot add the sage leave and fry until crispy. It will only take about 30 seconds.

Serve the soup in warm bowls topped with a drizzle of olive oil and the crispy sage.

Final words

Leeks also work well in quiche, stews, chopped up finely in salads, or simply sautéed in butter as a side dish. A low caloric vegetable they can be easily incorporated into a diet studies have shown them to be beneficial to the cardiovascular system.