Post by Contributor, Kathleen Quiring
Four years ago, I’m not sure I could have even told you what a leek was. Today, they are one of my absolute favourite fall crops, alongside their better-known counterparts, pumpkins and winter squash.
I started to really appreciate leeks when I began to strive towards more local (and thus seasonal) eating. Thanks to Barbara Kingsolver, I have become convinced that eating locally is a key element in creating a healthier planet and food system.
Seasonal eating also makes food more fun and exciting (and not to mention delicious), in my opinion. Fresh strawberries are more magical because I can only indulge in them a few weeks out of the year. Same with asparagus.
Part of what makes leeks so special is that they’re only available locally after everything else is pretty much done. Aside from a few carrots and cabbages, the rest of the garden is more or less barren by late October. Ah, but leeks. They’re finally just reaching their peak, and can remain standing in their neat little rows until mid-December, waiting to be pulled and enjoyed in a warm soup.
Leeks have an unusually long growing season, meaning you can’t grow them in succession crops the way you can with, say, beets or green beans. They need the whole spring, summer and fall to mature. This is a once-a-year deal.
They also don’t store well long-term. There’s no great way to preserve them (except to chop, sauté, and freeze them in little baggies). Once they’re out of the ground, you only have a few days (or weeks at best) to use them.
So they’re a special treat. And lucky for you, if you’re in the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere, NOW is the time to enjoy them! (We just pulled some of the last ones out of the ground last night. Especially if you’re further south, you might have a little more time). If you try buying (imported) leeks any other time of year, they cost up to $3 a bundle here in Ontario. Jeepers!
Not only are leeks special because they’re elusive, but they’re downright delectable. Below I’m going to share the first recipe that totally won me over (with another to follow tomorrow).
They’re in the same family as onions, but they have a milder, subtler flavor, and an extraordinary texture. They’re also packed with nutrients. Heaps of vitamins (K, A, C, B, folate – you name it), plus manganese, and many of the same health benefits as their allium cousins, onions and garlic. (Check out the details here.)
Have I got you convinced to give them a try? Allow me to share two of my favourite leek recipes that are guaranteed to convert the leek skeptic — one today, and a second one tomorrow.
First: gratineed leeks, which I discovered a few years ago thanks to Donielle. It’s a perfect way to first try this delicious vegetable. Braising makes the leeks super-tender; following that with a quick broil makes the tops golden and crispy. And cheese makes everything wonderful. Mmmm.
(Recipe adapted from Natural Fertility and Wellness)
- 6 large leeks
- ½ cup chicken stock or lightly salted water
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup aged cheddar shredded
- ¼ cup parmesan shredded
- 2 tablespoons cold butter cut into little cubes
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Wash leeks carefully to remove any sand. Slice in half lengthwise, and lay them cut-side-up in a large glass dish.
- Pour stock over them, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with foil or a cookie sheet.
- Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until leeks are softened. Remove dish from oven and turn on the broiler.
- Sprinkle cheeses over top of the leeks, followed by butter. Place under the hot broiler until the top is golden and bubbly.
Come back tomorrow for another to-die-for recipe: Classic Leek and Potato Soup.
Have you ever used leeks in your kitchen?
And if you’re really dying for more delicious leek ideas, check out my Mushroom and Leek Pot Pie.
I have only used the green stems chopped up and cooked in my potato soup. It gives great flavor!! I will have to try more recipes!
These are even better without the cheese.
The leeks I bought this week had a hard stalk through the middle instead of layers – does this mean they were over-ripe?
Hi VIkki! I’ve had that before, too, and I do believe it’s a sign that they’ve over-matured. That might not be a problem, though, depending on how old it is — I’ve often just taken that hard middle part out and used the rest. I would especially think it would be fine if you use it in the soup recipe I shared (link in the post above). I might be a little more hesitant to use it in gratineed leeks, in case it’s too tough.
Those gratineed leeks sound delicious. Thanks!
Yes! I’m a huge leek fan. Still trying to get them to grow in my garden though.
We love leeks and have been enjoying them all fall. Never tried them this way though so will have to next season! Our favorite dish this fall with them was a squash leek soup with bacon. It started out as a random tossing what I already had in a pot but it turned out so delicious!
Do you grow them? Are they an easy grower? I’ve never tried but I just may have to for next year!
Ooh, that dish sounds amazing, too! I always find pork pairs well with fall vegetables for some reason.
Yes, we grow them at my parents’ house. They’re quite easy to grow, they just take forever. You start the seedlings in late winter/early spring and don’t harvest them until fall! But it’s so worth it.
I cooked with leeks for the first time this Fall – it was a recipe for leek and cauliflower soup. It was okay, but nothing I’d crave, and I was amazed at all the dirt I had to wash out from all the layers of leek! I’ll give them another shot though if I see them in the grocery store 🙂 I do love me any excuse to eat chicken stock and cheese!
Some years we get a lot of dirt in our leeks, other years we don’t. Not sure why that is. I agree that chicken stock and cheese are always winners!
I loooooove leeks. Though, interestingly, in Oklahoma they popped up around August at the farmer’s markets and are all gone now–perhaps they just ought to plant more leeks? 😉 You do sometimes also see them in the spring, depending on what kind of winter we had. Either way–deliciousness. I’ll have to try them gratineed like this.
Really? August?! I didn’t realize our climates were THAT different, or that it made that big a difference! Interesting. Yes, do try them. If you’re already a fan of leeks, you’ll adore this way of serving them.