Leeks come from the same family as onions and garlic. They also look like giant green onions and have a similar but milder flavor. Leeks are perfect to add to soups, stews and pastas which is great since they are mainly at their peak in the winter months. Typically when eating leeks the white and light green parts are best to consume whereas the dark green tops of the stalks are tough and chewy but can be added to stock for flavor and removed later.
Historically leeks are native to central Asia but were revered by the ancient Greek and Romans as they were thought to have a beneficial effect on the throat. Aristotle is known to have said that the clear voice of a partridge was due to its high leek intake.
Varieties: Leeks are categorized based off of their season. Early season (summer) leeks are smaller and milder in flavor. Some examples of summer leeks are “King Richard” and “Columbus”. Late Season (winter) leeks have wider stalks and have a stronger flavor. Some examples of these are “Bandit” and “Titan”. There are wild leeks which are typically grown in gardens and are long, flat and have grass like leaves and then there are elephant garlic which are actually not garlic at all but instead a building leek that produces cloves.
Season: Leeks are typically known to be at their peak in January but are in season from October through May. Leeks are the perfect winter veggie and is a stable ingredient in soups. Leeks however can be split into two seasons: summer leeks which are smaller and more mild and winter which are larger and have a more intense oniony taste.
Heath Benefits: Leeks have many health benefits and are known to have high levels of vitamins A and K as well as folate. Folate prevents neural tube defects in newborns and should be consumed regularly during pregnancy. The vitamin B helps to maintain heart health and reduce the risk of blood clots and stroke while the flavnol kaempferol protects the blood vessel linings and reduces blood pressure and cholesterol.
Nutrients: Contains vitamins A, B, C, E and K as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and potassium. There are 7 calories in one stalk.
How to store them: When shopping for leeks be sure to pick ones that are firm, straight and have dark green leaves. Avoid ones that are yellowed, damaged, have brown spots or look wilted. They can be kept in the fridge unwashed for up to two weeks.