Leeks are a truly versatile vegetable. They have a milder, sweeter flavour than onions and a smooth texture similar to asparagus. In fact, in France leeks are often called the ‘poor man’s asparagus’.
Leeks can be cooked in all sorts of different and delicious ways including:
• Pan fried – heat a small amount of olive oil and butter in a frying pan, add some sliced leeks and gently cook for about 5-10 minutes until tender
• Sautéed – for super healthy leeks, sauté with fennel and garnish with fresh lemon juice and thyme
• Stir fried – heat a little oil over a high heat in a frying pan or wok, add some prepared leeks and stir fry for a few minutes
• Baked – place some sliced leeks in an oven-proof dish, sprinkle with cheese or cover with white sauce and bake for 30-40 minutes at 190°C
• Roasted – pour some olive oil into a roasting tray and add leeks, making sure they are coated all over. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and roast in the oven (210°C) for 30 minutes
• Braised – pour a small amount of chicken or vegetable stock into a frying pan, add some prepared, sliced leeks, cover and gently cook for 10-15 minutes. Braised leeks dusted with fennel or mustard seeds are a delicious accompaniment to fish, poultry or steak
• Raw – spice up a salad by adding finely chopped leeks and dress generously with vinaigrette
Leeks make a fantastically flavoursome vegetable side dish. Equally, they work wonderfully in a wide variety of recipes such as casseroles, omelettes and frittatas, risottos, quiches, pasta sauces and soups.
In the UK we tend to eat only the white part of the leek, throwing away the dark green leafy ‘flag’ which is considered tough and unpalatable. In fact this is a misapprehension and in Continental Europe consumers happily eat the entire vegetable, reducing waste and saving money.
The darker green parts of the leek are in fact packed with flavour, the leaves are a little tougher – but that just means cooking them for a little longer than the white parts and chopping them more finely.
Braising, slow cooking or blending works particularly well if you want to minimise food waste and use the full leek. The darker, green leaves also make a fabulous bouquet garni – they are ideal for wrapping bundles of fresh herbs and then can be used for flavouring soups and stews.
Just consider the dark green flag as you would a tougher cut of meat such as a brisket, chuck or hangar steak. They can be equally delicious but just need to be prepared slightly differently and cooked for longer, to ensure a tasty end result.
Health and Safety
The British Leek Growers Association supports the guidelines given by the Food Standards Agency to consumers on how to safely prepare raw foods, these include:
• Wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet, after handling raw meat or raw vegetables, before meals and after contact with animals
• Ensure that refrigerators are working correctly – bacteria grow more quickly at temperatures over 4°C
• Store uncooked meats below cooked meats and salad vegetables to avoid dripping meat juices onto ready to eat food
• Thoroughly wash all vegetables before consumption
• Thoroughly wash all knives and cooking boards after use to prevent cross contamination