What is a leek?
The mild onion flavour of the leek is perfect for those who prefer delicate flavours. Vichyssoise is a happy marriage between leeks and potato and the gentle sweetness of this luscious soup will tease your taste buds.
Around 3000 BC, leeks were part of the ancient Egyptian diet. Dried specimens and carvings depicting leeks have been found in archaeological sites in Egypt. The Romans helped spread the leek to other parts of the world as they invaded and conquered foreign lands such as Britain.
The seeds of leeks were carried to Australia on the ships of the First Fleet and they are now found growing in many backyard gardens.
The most common type of leek sold in Australia is the Welsh Wonder. It has a long, white cylindrical stem and is bulbous at one end, with broad, green, overlapping leaves at the other.
Baby leeks are also available in supermarkets and fresh food markets. These are smaller (similar to spring onions) and their stems are about 10 to 15 mm in diameter.
Why leeks are good to eat
- Leeks are a good source of vitamins A, C and K (important for helping your blood to clot).
- They also contain minerals such as iron (which is important for red blood cells) and manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function).
- Leeks are also a good source of dietary fibre.
- Energy – 100 g of leeks supplies 125 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Leeks are an easy vegetable to grow from seed (or seedlings) and the plant can grow to more than a metre. They prefer a sunny area that is sheltered from the wind.
This vegetable has a long growing season. Leeks are mature and ready to harvest about six months after transplanting the seedlings, although you can pick them at an earlier stage. Use a garden fork to gently prise the leeks from the ground. Remove the excess outer leaves and trim the tops.
To produce leeks with very white stems, ‘blanch’ them by making a mound of soil around a stem or tie layers of newspaper around the stem to keep out the light. This stops the production of chlorophyll that gives the stem a green colour.
Select leeks that look crisp and have a white stem. They should not have discoloured outer leaves or yellow or withered tops. Choose medium-sized leeks, as they are tastier and have more flavour than larger leeks.
How to store and keep leeks
Store leeks in a plastic storage bag in the crisper section of your fridge. They will keep for up to one week if stored in this way.
How to use
- For a tasty, savoury lunch, serve chicken and leek pie with a side salad – cook chunks of chicken and leeks in a frying pan, add some skim milk and light cream, toss in chopped parsley, season and transfer the mixture to pastry shells for baking.
- Make some simple, tasty leeks to accompany a fish or meat dish – slice leeks and cook in some olive oil until tender, season with pepper and freshly grated nutmeg.
- Fold sautéed leeks into a scrambled egg mixture – serve on toast, with tomatoes or smoked salmon.
- Toss crunchy, sliced raw leeks in a salad of ripe tomatoes, cucumber and olives dressed with olive oil, pepper and freshly chopped herbs.
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Better Health Channel
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