Being a chef, I have long appreciated the versatility of leeks and in the UK November marks the beginning of the leek season (Nov-April). Besides making the obvious leek and potato soup; or cock-a-leekie a wonderful Scottish clear chicken soup with leeks and prunes. There are so many possibilities of this under loved vegetable.
The Latin name for the leek is Allium porrum. The word Allium shows its relation to the onion family. Even so, onions are considered to be more harsh, or even low-brow. Leeks have a more upscale appeal. The flavour is more subtle and sweet than the average onion.
Although scientists are by no means certain, it is believed that leeks, like many herbs, are native to the Mediterranean area and possibly Asia Minor. Even though leeks have only recently become popular in the United States, they have been grown and used for cooking for more than 3,000 years in Asia and Europe.
Even the Bible mentions leeks. In Numbers (11:5) we read, "Remember how in Egypt we had fish for the asking, cucumbers, and watermelons, leeks and onions and garlic." This was from a lament by the Israelites as they wandered in the desert searching for the Promised Land.
It is widely reported that the Emperor, Nero (37-68 AD), ate leeks in quantity, cooked in oil. He believed it would improve his singing voice.
Leeks may have been introduced to Wales via Phoenician traders. The subsequent popularity of leeks in that country is exhibited by the fact that in 620 AD, King Cadwallader and his men wore leeks in their hats to differentiate themselves from their enemies, the Saxons. The onion-like vegetable was associated with Saint David and has become the National vegetable of Wales.
Leek Cooking Tips
Cut them into thick rondelles (as in the photo), soak in a sink full of warm water (this makes the leeks expand slightly and thus release any remaining sand you might find inside them. Cook them in a stainless steel
saucepan (with the lid on) in a little water (1/2 inch) and a few knobs of unsalted butter until tender. Don?t have the heat set too high (medium high is sufficient). If you have a saucepan that has a glass lid, this would be ideal to keep an eye on them. You can just drain them and served them as a vegetable, or with a cheese sauce. As alternative you could mix the leeks with honey roasted walnuts and bits of crispy bacon.
That's a Wrap
By the virtue of the shape of leeks makes it an ideal edible wrapper.
Cut the leeks in half lengthwise then wash well in a sink of warm water.
Trim up the leeks but try to keep some of the root in place to hold them together.
Blanch for 2-3 minutes in boiling water and cool in cold water and then drain on paper towel.
Now blanched the leek leaves are very flexible and can be used to wrap chicken breast before baking the chicken or use them to wrap a piece of cheese that you then stuff inside the breast. Equally good to wrap seafood or used to hold a parcel of garlic butter inside the fish. You can also wrap wedges of brie in leeks before wrapping in puff pastry to stop the cheese,
from oozing out during baking. I have even used blanched leeks to line a terrine with them in place of bacon.
Cut your leeks into 2 inch lengths and the cut each piece in half lengthwise.
Carefully keeping the leek flat on your cutting board cut them into matchsticks (as known as
Julienne). Soak the leek Julienne in ice water that makes them curl slightly, then drain and dry.
Deep fry them in oil until they are just starting to turn straw colour and drain on paper towels.
If they are not crispy enough you can dry them further in a cool oven at 50 -100 C, once you're happy with them season lightly with salt. Crispy fried leeks are a wonderful moreish garnish for all kinds of dishes be them starters, main courses, or even savoury nibbles.
More menu ideas
With mutton very much coming back into fashion, particularly for family celebrations, leeks are an obvious ideal accompaniment.
For more delicious ideas just click on this last delicious photo.