Exploring Leeks: Discover Their History, How to Grow Them, and Happy Recipes
A Royal Vegetable?
Leeks are a member of the onion (allium) family, but unlike their pedestrian relatives, they have always held a more prominent position in history. They were cultivated in Europe and Central Asia (and both areas claim to be the leek’s original birthplace). In the Bible, leeks are mentioned as one of the foodstuffs the Israelites longed for in their 40-year sojourn from Egypt to the Promised Land (and archaeological digs support their presence in the Egyptian diet).
In the 1st century A.D., the Roman Emperor Nero included leeks in his daily regimen—royal physicians convinced him that leeks had significant healing properties and would imbue him with a more mellifluous singing voice. Apparently, Aristotle agreed with this philosophy, saying that the beautiful voice of the partridge was due to its diet of leeks. (As a side note, partridges do not live in my garden, but I cannot imagine that they are unlike other birds in my part of the world. I have NEVER seen native birds feed on an onion-like offering in my yard.)
Nevertheless, as the Roman Empire spread, so did their gastronomic proclivities. Roman soldiers brought leeks with them in their conquest of what is now known as the United Kingdom.
And It Saved an Army
According to the source of verifiable knowledge known as Wikipedia, the leek saved Wales during the battle of Heathfield in 633 AD. No, Welsh soldiers did not wield spears and axes tipped with leeks. It wasn’t quite that dramatic. A Celtic monk named David persuaded the Welsh army to distinguish themselves from their Saxon enemies by wearing a leek on their helmets. The army of Wales won the battle and David the monk went on to become David the Saint. The Welsh still wear a leek on March 1, St. David’s Day (but they no longer don helmets).
Growing Them Is Easy
Leeks are easy to grow from seed. Sow seeds directly in the garden a month before the last frost date They need loose, well-drained soil and thrive happily in the same areas and conditions where one can grow onions. They usually reach maturity in time for an autumn harvest. Leeks can be bunched and harvested early when they are about the size of a finger or pencil, or they can be thinned and allowed to grow to a much larger mature size.
Unlike other members of the onion family, the green part of the plant is inedible. One must cover the growing stem with soil (this is referred to as blanching) to encourage the development of a firm, sturdy white stalk, the prized part of the leek.
And If You Have Too Many...
...you can freeze them. Lisa is an urban farmer in my little corner of the world. She grows amazing flowers and vegetables and shares her garden design ideas, successes and failures, and every day how-tos with us.
Breakfast: Leek Frittata
When your Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard is bare, you can always depend on eggs. This leek frittata by Larraine Perri of Cooking Light magazine is elegant enough to serve at a brunch gathering, yet simple enough to make for a weeknight dinner or weekend breakfast. It’s easy and fast, cheap, balanced, gluten-free, and healthy. What more could you want?
Breakfast: Baked Eggs With Spinach and Leeks
These baked eggs with spinach and leeks are an easy breakfast-for-2 in only one-half hour. They're vegetarian and paleo too. Thank you to Tasting Table for this great weekend brunch dish.
Lunch: Braised Leeks
These braised leeks have a subtle, mild onion flavor and are meltingly tender. A grating of fresh Parmesan adds rich umami flavor. This would be a wonderful vegetarian lunch. Just add a side salad for a perfectly balanced meal.
Lunch: Potato Leek Soup
Robert Irvine (of Food Network fame) has created a luxuriously creamy, yet easy potato leek soup. This is a big batch and will easily feed eight. Robert uses chicken stock but you can substitute vegetable stock to make this a vegetarian meal.
Dinner: Mushroom and Leek Bread Pudding
This mushroom and leek bread pudding, created by Ina Garten, is undeniably rich. I consider it a guilty pleasure, an indulgence, which I will allow myself to enjoy once or twice a year. If asked what I would want for my last meal, this would probably be a part of the menu. Mushrooms, pancetta, bread, and leeks mingle with heavy cream and Gruyere cheese to make a stuffing-like casserole with crispy bits on the top and edges and creamy rich melting yumminess in the middle.
Dinner: 30-Minute Creamy Mushroom and Leek Chicken Breasts
Heidi is the author/creator of the food blog FoodieCrush. Once a month she posts a recipe that features fresh local produce. When leeks made a guest appearance in her kitchen and she showcased them in this 30-minute creamy mushroom and chicken breast dish.
Dinner: Dirty Rice With Collards and Leeks
Traditionally, the Cajun dish dirty rice is made with white rice, chicken gizzards, and chicken liver. Letty of LettysKitchen has cleaned up dirty rice and made it gluten free, vegetarian, healthy, and absolutely satisfying and delicious with collard greens, brown rice, leeks, and umami-rich tamari sauce.
Appetizer: Baked White Cheddar Leek Dip
Who isn't a sucker for creamy cheesy baked dips? I love the traditional hot crab dip, and there's a parmesan-artichoke dip that beckons to me whenever I visit the deli section of my local Costco food warehouse.
This baked white cheddar/leek dip is dangerously easy and will be making an appearance during Super Bowl Sunday at the Carb Diva house.
Appetizer: Leek and Chanterelle Tart
Chanterelles have a very short growing period, making a brief appearance in mid-Autumn. Although other mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, porcini) could be used in their place, do try to make this beautiful leek and chanterelle tart when the wild mushrooms are at their peak.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Linda Lum