Thought to be native to central Asia, they have been grown in Asia and Europe for thousands of years. Leeks have been found in the tomb paintings of ancient Egyptians; Aristotle attributed the patridge’s clear voice to a diet of leeks; and Nero, the Roman emperor, reportedly ate leeks everyday to strengthen his voice. Leeks even appear in the Bible, the Book of Numbers to be precise!
The Roman Empire supposedly brought leeks to England, where they grow happily in the cooler climate. Today they are a national emblem of Wales along with the daffodil, which is known in Welsh as “Peter’s Leek”. This comes from battle against the Saxons where the Welsh wore leeks in their caps to distinguish themselves from their opponents (and the losing side!).
Leeks (Allium porrum) are part of the allium family, cousins of garlic and onions. It is advised we consume a cup of allium vegetables a day.
Often forgotten is the presence of B vitamin folate in leeks, supporting the cardiovascular system. Low in calories but with plenty of fibre, leek broth is taken as a cleansing tonic.
High levels of antioxidants, vitamins A and C in leeks protect our blood vessels and prevent oxidative damage. Packed with immunity-building nutrients, they stave off those winter flus and bugs – providing a tasty addition to winter veg.
Sourcing & Storing Leeks
Leeks are at their best in the cooler months, November through to April. Wild leeks, also known as ramps, are smaller but with more intense flavour. You can find them at farmers markets and the like but their season is shorter.
You want to find leeks that are firm with dark green leaves at their top. Avoid yellowed, bruised or cracked looking leeks. Large leeks, more than an inch in diameter, lose flavour and can be woody.
Store leeks either in the fridge for a week or the pantry, unwashed but wrapped to hold their moisture.
Cooking with Leeks
Leeks are lighter, sweeter and more delicate than onions and therefore are often used in meals where they are allowed to sing through without overpowering other ingredients.
It’s important that leeks are washed prior to use start by trimming their green tops and their bottom. Make an incision to the centre and run the knife down along the stem. Remove the outer skin and rinse them under cold water, running your fingers through the layers to rub off any dirt that has found a home. You may then cut them into slim rounds or cut them lengthways in half and then slice half-moons.
Leeks are delicious fried off in a little butter, then add a ladle of broth to soften them gently. Add some frozen peas, sliced fennel, another ladle of broth and some cabbage until soft. Serve with a sprinkle of good salt, cracked pepper, squeeze of lemon and finely chopped parsley as a lovely side or quick snack.
This article was written by our lovely Jess Bodor. You can follow Jess' food story through her instagram.