Leeks are a member of the Allium family which includes other vegetables such as onions and garlic. They have a similar smell and flavour to onions, but are less pungent, sweeter and finer in their texture. Rather than forming a bulb or cloves, the leaf sheaths wrap around each other to form a long white shaft with dark green leaves. Usually referred to as a stems or stalk, this is quite erroneous.
Grown by direct seeding, as the plant grows the soil around the shaft is hilled or trenched to create a taller leek and to blanche it, or retain it's whiteness. Leeks are very hardy vegetables to grow and are usually available all year round. Plants can be grown at a higher density and harvested earlier as young thinner shoots - these are very tender and have that slight onion flavour. Certain varieties are used during the summer, whereas others have the ability to withstand cold over wintering conditions
How to prepare
Trim off the top leaves just below where the oldest leaf is attached to the shaft. Also trim off the root section at least 10-20mm. If the outer leaf sheath looks slightly off coloured, peel back a layer or two, just as you would an onion.
Due to the nature of hilling soil up around the plant as it grows, it's often likely you'll find some sand or grit in between the leaf sheaths. It's important to rinse leeks extremely well. The best way to achieve this is to cut the leek shaft in half lengthways, loosen all the layers and rinse well under running water. Let dry in a colander or pat dry, then prepare as necessary. The sheaths can be bundle together and cut into strips, sliced across or roughly chopped.
- Boiled: 6 - 8 mintues
- Sautéed: 4 - 6 minutes
- Grilled: 8 - 10 mintues
- Microwave: 4 - 6 minutes
- Steamed: 15 - 20 minutes
Buyer's and storage guide
Leeks are usually available whole and loose, but may be in a bunch of two or three if thinner. More recently, the grower has done most of the work for you, trimming off the leaf tops and root ends and bagging as a twin pack.
Shafts must be firm and have a fresh clean appearance with blue/green leaves. Check that there are no rots or brown lesions.
Whole leeks can be a bit bulky, but will store longer if left intact - usually up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Any chopped or cut portions should be used within a day or two.
- Try as an onion alternative in pasta dishes and even a pizza topping when thinly sliced
- Stir-fry with mushrooms and a little butter will bring out their sweetness
- Saute in some butter or olive oil to soften then used in layering with spinach, zucchini and grated carrot in a quiche
- Create a creamy sauce to serve on fish or through a vegetable au gratin
- Enjoy the flavour in soup or stocks, blended, or kept in pieces for a heartier, chunky spoonful