We were introduced to leeks on a trip to western Ireland when our chef shared her recipe for mushroom soup. We had never grown them until recently. In March, we purchased a small Bonnie pot containing leeks. When I got ready to plant them, I realized the pot probably contained 100 plants. Following directions to plant them about 6 inches apart, I soon realized I’d be planting leeks in every one of our raised garden beds.
What are leeks anyway?
They are a member of the allium family (Allium porrum), and related to garlic, onions, shallots and scallions, although somewhat milder in flavor. They look like large scallions with a long white cylindrical stalk, small bulb and tightly wrapped, flat leaves. Sweeter and more delicate in flavor than onions, they add a subtle touch without overpowering the other flavors in a recipe.
Thought to originate in Central Asia,
leeks are now grown all around. They were prized by the Greeks and Romans for their beneficial effect upon the throat. The Roman Emperor Nero supposedly ate leeks everyday to make his voice stronger. The Romans are thought to have taken leeks to the United Kingdom, where they flourished because they can resist the cold. The Welsh have such high regard for them, the leek is one of their national symbols, along with the daffodil and the red dragon.
Ready to harvest
Our leeks have grown all summer and are now ready to harvest. One bloomed and went to seed, so we’ll have some to start with next year, but I didn’t want any more to do that. So how do you harvest leeks and have them around to use later in the year? They don’t lay out and dry like onions.
To harvest them, the first thing is to make sure you remove all the dirt. The leaves grow together tightly as overlapping blades often trapping soil and bugs as they grow. Remove the roots and cut the tough blades leaving the white and light green areas of the stalk. They can be wrapped in damp paper towels and stored in a plastic bag in refrigerator for up to a week. When ready to preserve, slice them down the center and swish them in water to continue removing soil.
Then slice the stalk halves into 1/4” semi circles, separating the layers as you go. I found mixed recommendations to blanch or not. Blanching will reduce some of the flavor, but stops enzyme activity. Spread the slices on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper and allow them to dry. From here you can either flash freeze them and then pack into freezer bags and store in the freezer. They can last 6 months to a year. Or spread them on parchment paper and place them into a dehydrator (the Sun Oven® works well for this).
Dry leeks at 100ºF for 18-20 hours. The lower drying temperature helps maintain the nutritional value. They are high in vitamin K, and good sources for magnesium, vitamin B6, copper, iron, folate and vitamins A & C. They have an impressive amount of polyphenols, which play an important role in supporting our body’s antioxidant and detox systems and forming connective tissue.
To use them in cooking, add frozen, directly into any recipe, saute like onions and garlic with broth or butter. Dried leeks can be added directly to any wet recipe like soups.
Irish Mushroom Soup
1 lb. mushrooms chopped
1 pt. chicken stock + 1-2 bullion cubes
4 oz onion
2 oz butter or oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 oz flour
Sweat the veggies in oil, add flour, add chicken broth and stock cubes. Cook until soft. Puree all ingredients, season to taste. Serves 4.
Mexican Potato and Leek Soup
4 Tbs unsalted butter
3 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, roughly chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
1 medium russet potato, peeled and chopped
8 cups chicken stock
1 dried bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup crema or sour cream
2 Tbs finely chopped chives
Olive oil for garnish
Heat butter in a 4 qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks, onions, and potato, and cook, stirring occasionally, until potato is very tender, about 35 minutes. Transfer to a blender and purée until smooth, at least 2 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a pitcher or bowl and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.
To serve, divide chilled soup among serving bowls and dollop with a spoonful of crema, sprinkle with some of the chives, and drizzle with a couple drops of olive oil.
Makes 8-10 servings.
Braised Salmon with Leeks
2 medium leeks, cut lengthwise
4 medium cloves garlic, pressed
1 Tbs + 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 Tbs + 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice (reserved for serving)
1 Tbs chopped tarragon
1 1/2 lbs. salmon fillet cut into 8 pieces, skin and bones removed
salt & white pepper to taste
1. Cut off green tops of leeks and remove outer tough leaves. Cut off root and cut leeks in half lengthwise. Fan out the leeks and rinse well under running water, leaving them intact. Cut leeks into 2 inch lengths. Now, holding the leek sections cut side up, cut length wise to make very thin strips.
2. Let leeks and garlic sit for at least 5 minutes to bring out their hidden health benefits.
3. Heat 1 Tbs broth in 10-12” stainless steel skillet. Healthy sauté over medium heat in broth for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add 1/2 cup broth and lemon juice and simmer for another 5 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally.
4. Rub salmon with 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice, salt and white pepper.
5. Stir fresh tarragon, salt, and pepper into leeks, and place salmon on top of leeks. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, covered, or until salmon is pink inside. Serve leeks topped with salmon and drizzle with reserved lemon juice. Serves 4.
4 large leeks, tough leaves discarded and trimmed to about 6 inches in length
3 Tbs butter
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1 pinch pepper
Using a sharp knife, trim most of the roots off the end of the leek, leaving enough so that the leek remains attached at the bottom. Cut each leek lengthwise into halves and then cut each half into inch long pieces. Soak leeks in a large bowl of cool water to allow any dirt to settle to the bottom.
In a sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
Sprinkle with thyme and cook one minute more.
Add stock, reduce heat to medium low. Braise the leeks, covered, for about 10 minutes, or until tender. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Billie Nicholson, Editor