1 March is St David’s day. In honour of the patron saint, we offer a few words about leeks (the national emblem of Wales) plus which to choose, and a few recipe suggestions we hope will provide inspiration for a lovely Sunday lunch or two.
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 so often. The crazed emperor Nero, incidentally, 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 told the ancient Britons (Welsh) to wear leeks in their caps while battling Saxon invaders. The Saxons lost; soldiers in the Welsh regiments still eat a raw leek on St David’s Day. (Some say daffodills were only chosen to be the second national emblem of Wales, in 1911, because large modern leeks look a bit odd in buttonholes.)
In Medieval days, 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.
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).
The white part of leeks can stand in for onions. To keep leeks bright green, rinse in cold water immediately after cooking. The below are just a few suggestions we hope will serve as a starting point to search for more detailed recipes (more confident cooks may prefer to make it up as they go along, of course!)
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; 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 (veggie) sausages
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
We hope this page has provided some inspiration. For more ideas, click back to COOK