Pick obviously healthy plants — dark green tops, clear white bottoms, firm leaves. Leeks are very good at resisting pesticidal residues so, if you want to eat organic but money is tight, save your pennies for more susceptible veg such as tomatoes or carrots (see PAN-UK for more info, and lists of veg, on this topic). According to @, the British leek season begins on 1st November every year.
The Taster recommends making leek & potato soup (hot) or Vichyssoise (cold) with mirepoix*, curry spices, chicken stock, cream & lemon juice. ‘Cock-a-leekie’ is just chicken & leek soup, plus rice, barley and prunes. A dash of sherry won’t hurt. Or try five-onion-soup: onion, spring onion, shallots, leeks & garlic, finished with Gruyère croutons.
*Mirepoix: one of the single most useful things a novice cook can learn to make. Sauté chopped onion, carrot and celery, plus mixed herbs and maybe garlic. Use in many, many dishes
IN CREAM OR CHEESE SAUCE
Leeks and dairy match well. Try wrapping leeks, parsley, nutmeg and butter in slices of ham or bacon; lay them in a tin and bake; then pour on cream and grated cheese, and grill until bubbling
PIES & PASTRIES
The trio of leeks, bacon and cheese is good in pasties, quiches, pies or tartlets. (For bacon, read ham, prosciutto etc; the best cheeses are Caerphilly, goat’s, cream, or blue.) Make veggie samosas out of leeks, cheese & curry spices
Make a plain Cheddar cheese soufflé, mixing in bacon bits and sautéd chopped leeks before baking. Easy to make but sounds mightily impressive
GLAMORGAN SAUSAGES (VEGGIE)
Make ‘sausages’ out of breadcrumbs, leeks, Caerphilly cheese, parsley and seasoning, bound with egg. They do taste spookily like meat sausages
Blend chopped raw leeks with pine nuts, olive oil and garlic until smooth. Salt, pepper & lemon juice to taste. Put on pasta or with salmon or trout
In her 1954 Food in England, Dorothy Hartley says, ‘a single folded leek leaf holds a trout very neatly for grilling’ — the same way palm or banana leaves are used to cradle exotic dishes. Richard Llewellyn noted something similar in How Green Was My Valley. Try it out when cooking Thai, Vietnamese or anything involving lemongrass. Read about our attempt at Sri Lankan rice parcels here
Our wine buff, Richard J Smith of the Wine School of Cheshire says: Leeks are a winning ingredient. An unoaked Chardonnay or grassy Sauvignon Blanc would pair quite well, but to spice it up, try a Grüner Veltliner. Austria’s most widely-produced white grape variety is not to be missed. Sepp Moser has a great value Grüner at around £10 (with a fun label).
Around 30AD, the Roman Apicius compiled arguably the world’s first most snobbish cookbook, De re coquinaria. Cabbage was beneath his notice, which may explain why he was forced to use leeks as often as he did — they appear to have been a staple.
There connection between singing ability, leeks and the Welsh seems to have lasted for centuries — or possibly millennia. The crazed christian-torturing emperor Nero was nicknamed Porrophagus, meaning ‘leek-eater,’ for his habit of munching leeks in order to improve his singing voice (he was quite mad). Around 550AD, St David allegedly suggested that the ancient Britons — that is, the Welsh — should wear leeks in their caps while battling an invading Saxon horde. The Saxons were duly defeated; and in remembrance of this triumph, soldiers in the Welsh regiments still eat a raw leek on St David’s Day. The green and white colours of the Welsh flag are based on the green and white of a leek.
Some say daffodils were only chosen to be the second national emblem of Wales, in 1911, partly because their stalks are vaguely reminiscent of leek stalks, but mostly because large modern leeks look ridiculous in buttonholes.*
In Medieval times, leeks were categorised as dry and warm (as opposed to wet and cold) and so quite healthful. They have never fallen out of fashion since, largely because they have never quite been in it.
Leeks are related to lilies and a good source of Vitamin C, iron & folic acid.
For loads more about leeks, try british-leeks.co.uk
For more ingredients, go to The Taster’s Seasonal Cooking page.
*On the other hand, never trust a sentence that begins with the words “some say.” Some say that roast carp is an excellent Christmas dish, but we’ve tried it and we know it’s not.