As the green tops soak up the sun’s rays and emerge from the cool soil, rounded cylindrical bulbs expand below the ground. That’s how leeks appear.
Absent of sunlight, the portion below the earth’s surface never has the chance for chlorophyll production, resulting in a cream color. Ranging greatly in thickness and length, it is the white portion that is the desirable edible part, while the tops are often discarded.
Close relative to onions, garlic and shallots, fresh leeks thrive during the cold fall and winter months and are readily available from a host of local area farmers.
Leeks deliver a nice mild onion flavor, with subtle garlic notes throughout. With onions becoming increasingly hard to find this time of year due to their seasonality, leeks make for a worthy substitute in many cases, whether enjoyed sauteed, added to soups and stews, enjoyed over a pizza, added to creamy sauces and in an array of salads.
Leeks can also be grilled, something I do often. Just slice them in half lengthwise, drizzle them with olive oil and season them before they hit the flames. Leeks are also a great addition to homemade quiche recipes, crab cakes and seafood preparations.
Because leeks are indeed growing underground, it is quite common for some sediment to become trapped inside the tightly wrapped leaves, something that is much more prominent toward the upper portion of the leek. For this reason, before using leeks, I like to slice them into rounds and float the leeks in cold water to remove any dirt. Then the leeks can be dried on a paper towel and be ready for use.
With an abundance of turkey stock produced from the remnants in this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, I prepared a couple of rounds of soup, both utilizing fresh leeks. When making the soup stock, I did utilize the leek tops that are often discarded to flavor the broth. The white portion was cut into rounds and added to the main soup itself.
Vegetable Leek Soup
2-3 leeks, tops discarded, cut into rounds.
1 bunch celery (about 10 ribs), diced.
3 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced.
4 large carrots, peeled and diced.
64 ounces turkey stock (or chicken or vegetable broth).
2 large chicken breasts (leave out if you’re preparing this as a vegetarian dish).
2 bay leaves.
2 broccoli heads, stems diced, crow portion cut into small florets.
Seasoned salt and pepper to taste.
Float your leeks in cold water to remove any sediment. Place in a slow cooker with celery, potato, carrots, stock, chicken and bay leaves. Cook on high for about 3-4 hours.
If using chicken, remove from heat, dic, and then add back to the slow cooker along with broccoli. Taste and season with seasoned salt and pepper as needed. Cover, turn off heat and let sit for about 10 minutes to allow the broccoli to cook.
This recipe can also be done in a pot on the stovetop, at a low simmer. Cooking time will likely be much less.
Yield: Serves 8.