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Lowly Leeks

Fresh washed leeks

Sweet Cousin to the Onion

Sweet cousin of the onion, same nutritional benefits!

Leeks have been cultivated for thousands of years - they're mentioned in the Bible. The Emperor Nero ate them in great quantity, believing they improved his singing voice, earning him the nickname Porophagus, which means "leek eater".

The lowly leek looks like a scallion on steroids. Indeed, it's in the same family, along with garlic, onions, and shallots. However, it's flavor is more subtle than any of its cousins.

Wild leeks, called ramps, are related, though they are more strongly flavored than the cultivated leeks you find in the supermarket.

Nutrition Information for Leeks

As a member of the Allium family, leeks contain the same allyl sulfide compounds found in garlic and onions, but in smaller quantities. You would need to eat more of leeks to reap the same benefits. Leeks also bring benefits like manganese, vitamin C, folate, vitamin B6, and iron.

If eaten regularily, leeks provide the same health benefits - cholesterol lowering and cancer protection - attributed to other members of the family. Allium vegetables also have been shown to lower high blood pressure and hinder plaque development in blood vessels. Leeks are a rich source of the flavonoid kaempferol (also found in blueberries, broccoli, kale and tea).

Notable Nutrients

One-half white and pale green parts, boiled contains: Leeks

  • Calories:  31
  • Vitamin B6:  0.1 milligrams (5% DV)
  • Folate:  24 micrograms (10% DV)
  • Vitamin C:  4.2 milligrams (7% DV)
  • Iron:  1.1 milligrams (6% DV)

Leeks peak in early spring, though are generally available year-round in stores. Choose leeks no bigger than 1-1/2 inches in diameter - the smaller the more tender and sweet. The green tops should be crisp and the bottoms white and fairly clean (roots may or may not be attached).

Wash leeks well, as dirt can get trapped between the layers. Cut off any roots and then cut leeks in half lengthwise; hold the cut ends under cool running water or swish in water.

For most cooking, use only the white and palest green parts of leeks; the dark green part can be tough, though edible if thinly sliced and added to soups. Leeks can be eaten raw in salads or used to garnish other foods, as you would with scallions or chives. Try braising, baking, sauteing, or stir-frying leeks; when cooked longer or at high temperatures, the sugars caramelize a bit, giving them wonderful flavor and a rustice browned appearance.

Char-Grilled Leeks

Cut trimmed leeks in half lengthwise. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season. Char-grill until lightly charred. Top with crispy pancetta and a warm red wine vinegar dressing. Sprinkle with baby herbs.

History Tidbit

And if you ever need to treat a gunpowder injury, you might consider this recipe from The Gentlewoman's Companion (1675). Most likely for topical application only:
"Take twelve heads of houseleek, a handful of groundsel, one pint of goose-dung, and as much chicken-dung of the newest that can be gotten. Stamp the herbs very small, then put the dung into the mortar, temper it with boar's grease, and stir all together half an hour."

Springtime Saute Recipe

Sauteed Leeks 2 medium leeks
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup sugar snap pea pods (about 4 ounces)
1/8 teaspoon salt
Dash ground pepper
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon real maple syrup

Trim roots, tough bottom part and dark green portion of leek tops and discard. Slice leeks in half lengthwise; rinse thoroughly under running water, cut side up. Cut leeks into 1/4 inch slices and set aside.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. When hot, add garlic, stir for about 30 seconds. Add sliced leeks and pea pods. Cook 4 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until peas are cooked crisp tender and leeks are soft.

Season with salt and pepper, and then stir in the maple syrup. Cook another minute to heat through. Serve immediately. Serves two.

Nutrition information: 111 calories, 1.6g protein, 19g carbohydrates, 3.4g fat, 49 micrograms folate, 26mg vitamin C, 2mg iron, 145mg sodium, 2g fiber

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