This Meatless Monday, we feature leeks, with growing, storage and prep tips, as well as recipes for Leek & Potato Soup and Potato-Leek Pancakes from Vermont Fresh: A Fruit and Vegetable Handbook.
Leeks belong to the Allium (onion) family, as you may have been able to guess from the way they look, but their more delicate flavor and texture makes them a specialty vegetable. Popular in upscale restaurants, leeks also lends themselves to simple home-cooking. Leeks were highly esteemed by the ancient Romans and have remained popular through the centuries. Instead of forming a bulb beneath the soil, leeks form a long cylinder of tightly bunched leaves that branch out at the top. The firm, white, base of this cylinder is the part that is generally eaten. To keep the base of the leeks white, soil is generally pushed up around them, which keeps that part of the plant from producing chlorophyll. As a result, dirt often lodges in the crevices around the base of the leaves, meaning leeks need careful cleaning.
Leeks can be found in winter and summer varieties with different stem heights and thicknesses. Winter leeks are hardier, so choose those varieties for the earliest plantings. You can begin seeds indoors as early as March and transplant as soon as the soil can be worked. Seedlings should be transplanted into troughs 4-6 inches deep, with only about half of the leaves showing above the ground. Leeks take from 3-4 months to reach maturity, so be sure to leave plenty of time for them to grow to full size (though baby leeks are a delicacy, too). Leeks prefer very fertile, well-drained soil with plentiful nitrogen and will benefit from frequent weeding. For longer, whiter stalks, hill soil up around the stems a few times over the summer as the plants grow.
Leeks store best in chilly root cellars, hilled in sand with the leaves poking out. They can also be wrapped in plastic bags in stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator, though they will only last a few weeks at best that way. Some leek growers report being able to leave leeks in the ground to overwinter for spring use, but extreme freezes will damage quality, so mulch heavily if going that route.
Leeks are a good source of potassium and iron. They also contain beta carotene and Vitamin C. Like other members of the allium family, leeks are touted for their health benefits and for preventing against long-term diseases.
Cut off the base of the leek, just trimming off the roots but leaving the stem as intact as possible. Trim the leaves and discard or set aside for use in stock. If you are planning to chop the leeks for use anyway, proceed to chop and then wash the leek segments very thoroughly afterward. If serving whole, slit the upper portion into quarters. Then soak and rinse repeatedly.
Meatless Monday Featured recipe: Leek & Potato Soup
Adriany Martins, a volunteer baking, tasting and testing recipes out of the Vermont Fresh Handbook tried this recipe. Adriany is an exchange student from Brazil, living with a host family in central Vermont. She’s a senior at U-32 High School. Her comments and tips are in italics below.
(adapted from Bon Appétit, May 1996, and epicurious.com)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 leeks, trimmed, chopped, and thoroughly washed
- 3 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 3-4 large, waxy potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup cream or milk
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt (or to taste)
- Chopped chives, onion greens, or parsley for garnish (optional)
- Melt butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over low-medium heat. Add leeks and sauté until tender, about 15 minutes. Add garlic and continue to cook until garlic is golden and soft, a few minutes more.
- Add the stock and potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until potatoes are very soft, about 30 minutes.
- Remove mixture from heat and process with immersion blender or in standard blender, taking care not to burn yourself on the hot liquid (process in small batches if necessary).
- Once smooth, return mixture to pot. Stir in cream, pepper, and salt. Garnish and serve hot.
Everyone in the family liked this soup. It is fairly mild flavored and great with some good bread which we liked to dip in it. Leeks are about $4 a bunch and with the other ingredients it is less than a dollar per person. It served the five of us and some had seconds. With bread we considered it a meal.
Meatless Monday Featured Recipe: Potato-Leek Pancakes
(adapted from petesgreens.blogspot.com)
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons flour
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 leek, trimmed, finely chopped, and rinsed
- 5 medium, waxy potatoes, grated
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- In a mixing bowl, beat eggs. Add flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper and stir to combine.
- Mix in leek and grated potatoes and stir until veggies are coated.
- Heat oil in heavy frying pan (such as cast iron) over medium heat.
- Spoon ½ cup blobs of batter into the hot oil. Fry on each side until golden and crisp.
- Remove to a paper-towel covered plate (to soak up excess oil). Serve warm.
Vermont Foodbank fresh food initiatives would not be possible without your support. Please consider giving to the Vermont Foodbank today!