Beyond “Leeky”

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Just in time for all those favorite winter recipes using leeks; here is a close up look at this very versatile vegetable.

Leeks are cousins to onions, but rather than forming a tight bulb like the onion, leeks produce a long cylinder of bundled leaf sheaths. The part of that is underground remains tender and white, while the part exposed to the sunlight becomes tough and fibrous and not very good for eating. To maximize the edible part of the plant, farmers mound the dirt up around the sprouting plant; this keeps more of it underground and white (trenching).

Leeks have been cultivated since the time of the Ancient Egyptians. Hippocrates the ancient Greek physician and ‘father of medicine’ prescribed the leek as a cure for nosebleeds. The Romans considered the leek a superior vegetable.

Their flavor is sweeter, more delicate, and reminiscent of garlic or chives. If you don’t like onions, you should give leeks a try. Their flavor is mellow and not overpowering, and many onion-haters enjoy them.

Leeks are very versatile and work well cooked in various recipes or as a side dish. Leeks are delicious no matter how they’re cooked, and they’re often considered to be a gourmet onion because they are less commonly used and harder to find than onions. Leeks are most commonly used in soup, most notably in vichyssoise, a cold soup that also contains potatoes. They are also fabulous steamed, baked or roasted. They are also good as an ingredient in casseroles, tarts, and pies.

Leeks contain generous amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, making the vegetable a wise addition to a healthy diet. Leeks contain significant amounts of anti-oxidants such as diallyl disulfide, diallyl trisulfide and allyl propyl disulfide. These compounds convert to allicin by enzymatic reaction when leeks are cut. They contain several vital vitamins such as pyridoxine, folic acid, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin in healthy proportions. They provide 52% of the daily requirement of vitamin K, and a more than 29% daily requirement of vitamin A. They also have some other essential vitamins such as vitamin C, and vitamin E. And they have small amounts of minerals such as potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium.

And some fun facts

  • The name ‘leek’ developed from the Anglo-Saxon word leac
  • The leek is one of the national emblems of Wales, worn along with the daffodil on St. David’s Day (in Welsh, the daffodil is known as “Peter’s leek”
  • According to one legend, King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd ordered his soldiers to identify themselves by wearing the vegetable on their helmets in an ancient battle against the Saxons that took place in a leek field.
  • The 1985 and 1990 British one pound coins bear the design of a leek in a coronet, representing Wales. (How many other vegetables can claim to be on coins?)

Should be a favorite for 2019!