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Lettuce »« Kumara

Leeks

Allium porrum


Photo courtesy of Horticulture New Zealand

Description

Leeks are related to onions and garlic, but they have a mild flavour and sweetness that gives them a character all of their own.

Leeks look a lot like large spring onions, with a white stem that gradually turns into a bright green top. Cut one open and, like an onion, it’s formed by a series of layers that wrap around one another.

Choose medium-sized leeks – the larger ones can be woody and tough (though this is not such a problem if you’re using it in soup). The white part should be unblemished and the bright green top should look fresh, not limp. Store in the fridge for up to a week.

Leeks are high in folate, vitamin C, iron, and fibre. As a member of the Allium genus, they contain many of the beneficial compounds found in onions and garlic, known to help support the immune system.

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History

Leeks have been in humans’ diets since at least ancient Egypt, with dried remains and depictions of the vegetable having been found in tombs. Ancient texts also show that it was consumed in Mesopotamia (the modern-day Middle East) more than 3,000 years ago.

The leek was a favourite of the Romans, with the Emperor Nero being a particular fan. He’s said to have eaten it every day, believing it was good for his voice. The Romans are believed to have introduced leeks to Britain, where they became popular due to their ability to withstand inclement weather. To this day, the leek remains the national emblem of Wales.

Uses

Leeks are excellent for dishes in which the pungency of onion is too much. If you don’t like raw onion in salad, try adding finely sliced leeks instead.

Leeks are almost essential to vegetable soup, melting to almost nothing, but adding a mellow and sweet flavour. They go very well with potatoes, evidenced by the popularity of leek and potato soup, and also partner well with cheese and white meats.

As a side dish, try braising leeks. Cut lengthways down the middle and cut into large chunks (small leeks can be cut up without slicing). Saute in butter with chunks of spring onion until partially browned. Add about half a cup of vegetable stock, and let the liquid simmer off, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are moist and glossy. Grind black pepper over the top and serve either as a side dish, or for lunch on wholegrain toast.

Facts

Welsh legend says that soldiers were ordered to put a leek in their helmets to identify themselves during a battle against the Saxons that was in a leek field. This may not be true, but the leek was considered an ancient symbol of Wales even in Shakespeare’s time.

In Europe, leeks are known as ‘poor man’s asparagus’.



Lettuce »« Kumara

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