Leeks are as versatile as onions, but many of us don't know how to choose, prepare or use them.
Availability: Leeks are available most of the year, but they're best value between March and October.
Buying: Leeks should be straight, firm and crisp, with white bottoms and bright green leaves which 'snap' if broken. Avoid very dark green tops or rounded (rather than flat) bottoms – these may be signs the vegetable is overgrown, old, or both.
Storing: Keep in the fridge or a cool, dark place for 4-5 days. To keep other foods from absorbing their odour, lightly wrap them in plastic wrap and store in the bottom of the fridge. Do not trim or wash before storing.
Preparation: Remove sand and dirt from the layers by slicing the leek in half where the dark green turns to light green. Wash well, and prepare as you wish. Leeks can be blanched, steamed, sautéed, microwaved, stir-fried or added to soups, casseroles, quiches, risotto and sauces.
Nutrition: Leeks are a good source of folate and, like others in the allium family, including them in the diet helps reduce the risk of stomach and colon cancers.
Ideas for using leeks
- For a delicious accompaniment to grilled or pan-fried fish, serve gently stir-fried, finely chopped leek with a light drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of your favourite, firm, melting cheese (try parmesan, cheddar or pecorino).
- Because of their mild taste, leeks go very well with eggs. Sneak some into your next quiche, fritatta, omelette or batch of savoury muffins with their traditional accompaniment, bacon – and the kids won't even notice!
- Whip up a traditional Italian dish with sautéed leek, garlic, chillies and olive oil. Mix it together with your favourite wholemeal pasta, a handful of cherry tomatoes, and a sprinkling of parsley. Delicious.
- Use over-ripe pears in a leek and pear soup. In a pot, add 2 pears, 2 medium potatoes and 4 cups of chicken stock to sautéed leeks. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Purée in a blender, reheat in a saucepan, stir in a cup of reduced-fat Greek yoghurt and pepper to taste. Serve with chives.
Did you know? Like garlic and onion, leeks are part of the allium family, a group of plants so strong-smelling they can ward off many types of insect – which is why leeks are sometimes planted next to food crops.