In Praise Of The Mighty, Underappreciated Leek

Yes, the Leek. This member of the broader Onion family is beloved in Britain. It’s especially important in Welsh culture, where it’s associated with their patron saint. But the Leek has become a lost food treasure in North American cooking…

Leeks - © 2024 -

An ancient symbol

St. David’s Day is March 1. It commem-orates the death of the Patron Saint of Wales in 589 AD. It’s also a national day to honour Wales and Welsh culture as a whole.

I missed the fête this year. And now, I’m blushing. Because my late step dad was of Welsh ancestry, and I’ve always marked the day in his honour.

Dad was a middle school teacher for almost 40 years. For that heroic service, alone, he deserved an medal. But he claimed he loved every minute of it. He was also a bit of a showman, and always celebrated St David’s Day in the tradi-tional manner: by pinning a leek to his lapel…

A lost treasure

Alas, the once popular vegetable has fallen by the culinary wayside over the past few decades. It’s become harder to Find in grocery stores, as it’s currently being grown in smaller numbers. And ‘scarcity’ has sent its price soaring, even in relation to prevailing high food prices.

That’s a sad, unfortunate combination of circumstances that’s relegated a once-staple food to curiosity status.

The historical leek

Leeks are an ancient, once (and future?) important member of the Allium family. That’s the broad spectrum genus that encompasses more than 500 species including onions, shallots, scallions, chives and garlic.

The leek looks like a scallion (green onion) on steroids, often developing a white lower section more than 1 in. / 2.5 cm in diameter and green leafy tops more than 18 in. / 45 cm tall.

Like scallions, leeks feature a soft, sweet-tinged, mild, oniony flavour – some say, with notes of garlic – and enough bulk to figure prominently in dishes where they appear.

Healthy heritage

Like all members of the ‘onion’ family, The leek delivers a major dose of essential nutrients. It’s acclaimed by nutritionists as a superfood, with multitudinous benefits.

Leeks contain no fat, cholesterol or sodium. And a 100 g serving of leek clocks in at only 31 Calories.

How to use them

In British cooking, the leek was once the preeminent flavouring component in soups, stocks and many stews. The leek is still popular across the pond, in stark contrast to the place it currently occupies in North American cuisine.

The white part of the leek is used in all applications. The leaves are also edible, but are coarse, tough and strong-flavoured. They can be used to advantage in stock, or to flavour soups or stews – then removed before serving.

Leeks are also popular on their own as side dishes. They can be grilled like radicchio or endive, fried or braised like Brussels’s sprouts, or poached in white wine.

Prep tips

Trim off the tops of the leaves for most applications. It’s up to you how far up the stalk to cut, but you it’s generally accepted that the point where the leaves start spreading out from the bulb is the practical limit. Also lop of the roots at the bottom of the bulb. You don’t eat them, but they should always be intact when you buy your leeks.

Next, cut the bulb in half longitudinally. This is the ‘cut’ you use for braising, frying or grilling. If you’re using them in stocks, soups, stews or as a component in other dishes, it’s traditional to cut each half crossways in 1/8 to 1/4 in. – 1/2 to 1 cm slices. Try julienning them for salads and Asian dishes. You can also just manually separate the layers of the half-bulb to make leeks the star of any dish.

My take

Just google cooking with leeks’, and you’ll open a door to a whole new world of culinary possibilities! And the more we all use leeks, the more they’ll grow and the cheaper they’ll become!

It’s a total win, all ’round!

~ Maggie J.