Leeks are very versatile, having their own
distinct, subtle flavor. They are excellent in pies and casseroles with
other ingredients, braised in cream and served by themselves, or
simmered in butter as an accompanying vegetable. Leeks are also
wonderful in soups and broths and have rightly earned the title, "king of
the soup onions".
History : Leeks, like onions and garlic,
have a long history. They were grown widely in ancient Egypt and were
also eaten and enjoyed throughout the Greek and Roman period. In
England, there is evidence that leeks were enjoyed during the Dark Ages.
There is little mention of them during the Middle Ages, and history
suggests that between the sixteenth and eighteen centuries, eating leeks
was not considered fashionable. However, while they may not have enjoyed
a good reputation among the notoriously fickle aristocracy, the rural
communities probably continued to eat leeks. They grow in all sorts of
climates and are substantial enough to make a reasonable meal for a poor
family. It was probably during this time that they were dubbed "poor
man's asparagus" - a name which says more about people's snobbery about
food than it does about leeks. Many place names in England, such as Leckhampstead and Leighton Buzzard are derived from the word leek and,
of course, the leek has been a national emblem of Wales for hundreds of
Varieties : There are many different
varieties of leeks but among them there is little difference in flavor.
Commercially grown leeks tend to be about 25 cm in diameter. Leeks
nurtured in home gardens can be left to grow to an enormous size but
these may develop a woody center.
Among the many wild onions and leeks, the
Canadian ramp is perhaps the best known. Also called the wild leek, it
looks a little like a spring onion, but has a stronger and more
assertive garlic-onion flavor. Choose unblemished, clear white specimens
with bright, fresh leaves and keep in a cool place, wrapped in a plastic
bag to store. Prepare and cook as you would spring onions, by trimming
the root end and then slicing thinly. Use in cooking or in salads but
remember the onion flavor is stronger, so use sparingly.