November 9, 2014
With its mild onion-like taste leek belongs alongside onions, scallions and garlic. Its flavor is reminiscent of shallots but sweeter and less strong. With its more delicate flavor leek adds a subtle touch to recipes – without overpowering the other flavors that are present.
Its heritage can be traced back throughout the antiquity. The Greeks and Romans prized it for its beneficial effect upon the throat. It’s rumored that Aristotle as well as Roman emperor Nero ate leek every day to make their voice clear and strong.
Dried leek has been found in Egyptian tombs alongside leek wall carvings and drawings. It was concluded that leek was part of the Egyptian diet from at least the second millennium BCE onward.
Leek is also part of the Welsh national emblem. Apparently they fought against the Saxons and placed leek in their caps to differentiate themselves from them. Must have been an interesting picture – hundreds of guys running towards you having leek stuck on their forehead.
Although you will probably be able to buy leek all year round – they are in high season from fall through the early part of spring [that’s when they are the best]. Leek can withstand cold weather and is grown year round even in the north of Europe.
SHOPPING + STORAGE
Ripe leeks look like large scallions. They have a very small bulb and a long white cylindrical stalk of tightly wrapped, flat leaves – flowing from white into green in color. Cultivated leeks are about 30cm long and 2.5 to 5cm in diameter and have a fragrant flavor. When buying – the leek should be firm and straight with the dark green leaves still attached. The leaves should not be yellowed or wilted. The bulb should have no bruises or cracks. Overly large leeks are generally more fibrous in texture – so go for stalks with a diameter less then 4 cm.
Fresh leek should be stored unwashed and untrimmed in the refrigerator. Wrap them loosely in a plastic bag to help them retain moisture. They will stay fresh for 1 to 2 weeks. Cooked leek stores very poorly. Even kept in the fridge it will only stay good for two days the most. Leek can be blanched and then frozen for up to three month – but it will lose quite some of the taste and texture quality.
Boiling – turns it soft and mild in taste [finely chop the leek – otherwise the fibers running lengthwise will tangle into a ball while chewing]
Frying – leaves it crunchier and preserves the taste
Raw – crunchy and firm [sliced baby leek or young tender leaves can be used in salads]
Filled – in the Turkish cuisine the leek is chopped into thick slices, boiled, separated into leaves and finally filled with rice, herbs and meat
Leek mixes well – especially with other vegetables, cream, butter, cheese, seafood and eggs.
HOW TO PREPARE
The edible part of the leek is the white base of the leaves [above the roots], the light green part and to some extent the dark green part. So start by cutting off the dark green tops and the roots. Remove outer tough leaves [if they have any – usually they sell them without them already]
When leek grows soil is piled up around them so more of the leek is hidden from the sun and stays lighter and more tender. Unfortunately sand and dirt gets lodged between the leaves and must be cleaned away. Best way to get of the sand is to cut the leek in half lengthwise. Fan out the leaves and rinse well under running water.
Leek is typically chopped into slices 5-10 millimeter thick to reduce cooking time. The greener the leek – the smaller the slices. Let sit for at least 5 minutes before cooking.
The dark green parts have a tough texture but a lot of taste. They can be sautéed or added to stock. Use a twine to tie them together with some herbs and add it to your soup while cooking.
Leek contains many flavonoid anti-oxidants, minerals and vitamins. It is moderately low in calories and provides good amounts of fiber. It was found that it has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal activities. It reduces cholesterol production and the total blood pressure. Leek is a great source of vitamin A, C, K and vitamin E and a high concentration of iron.
Nutritional value per 100g cooked leek [% of Daily Value]