Ingredient of the Week: Leeks
Good for soups
Photo by John Suh
What is it?
Part of the onion and garlic family, leeks are large green stalks that resemble scallions or green onions on steroids. The flavor is described as falling somewhere between a mild onion and a cucumber, similar to the shallot but sweeter. Unlike scallions, leeks are not pungent or bitter, and they need to be cooked before consuming. They're a national emblem of Wales and therefore popular in Welsh cuisine.
Leeks have similar health benefits to garlic and onions, i.e., they contain flavonoids, B vitamin folate, and antioxidant polyphenols. They add a delicate, onion-like flavor to food without overpowering it.
How do I use it?
The edible parts of the leek are the white onion base and the light-green parts of the stalk. The darker ends of the leek are usually discarded, as they can contain a woody taste. Leeks are often used to flavor soups, stews, broths and stocks. They can be sauteed, braised, or added to salads. Pork and leek dumplings are common in Chinese cuisine.
Leeks contain a lot of dirt, so they need a thorough washing before cooking. If you're going to cook the leeks whole, cut them in half almost to the root, spread the sheaths and run them under water to remove dirt. If you're only going to use the edible parts of the leek, first cut off the root and dark-green ends of the leaves. Then cut the white bulb and light-green parts of the leek lengthwise, fan apart, and run under water. After washing, cut these into desired lengths, then cut again lengthwise into thin strips, and re-wash. Prior to cooking, let the leeks stand for five minutes, as this will enhance their health promoting qualities. (The same goes for when you cut and cook onions and garlic.)
Where can I find it?
In the produce section of most grocery stores. Leeks are available year-round but best when in season, which is from fall to spring. Choose leeks that are firm and straight with dark-green leaves and white heads. The larger the leek, the more mature and thus less flavorful it is, so try to stick with ones that are no larger than one-and-a-half inches in diameter. Avoid leeks with a round bulbous head -- these are too old.
Leeks can be stored unwashed and untrimmed in the vegetable crisper of your fridge, where they should keep for one to two weeks. Cut and cooked leeks will only keep for one or two days. You can freeze leeks, but they will become mushy and more bitter.
Vichyssoise With this bipolar weather we've been seeing, perhaps you'd prefer a cold soup. Also from Epicurious, here is a vichyssoise recipe utilizing the classic ingredients of leeks and potatoes.
What do you do with your leeks?
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