What are Leeks?
Let’s be honest with each other here. Unless you’re an avid at home chef or self proclaimed foodie, you might not know what leeks are, what they taste like, or what types of recipes they are meant for. Would you have known the featured image was a leek before we told you? Props to you if so! Here’s the scoop: Leeks are a part of the allium family (cousins with garlic, chives and scallions) and are rich in flavonoids and sulphur containing nutrients that should be included in your EVERY day diet. Although they look much like a green onion, they are much milder in taste and have a bit of a sweeter flavor to them.
What are the Health Benefits?
Allium vegetables have been utilized for years in the traditional medical practice to treat cardiovascular diseases. They are also packed with the flavonoid “kaempferol” which has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, antimicrobial, antitumor, antiarthritic and hypoglycemic agents. The list really goes on and on.
Leeks also have a very high concentration of the B vitamin ‘Folate’. For those of you who don’t know what this little B vitamin does, it helps your body create new DNA, repair the old DNA, and produce red blood cells. AKA very important. A deficiency in folate is one of the main reasons women are often diagnosed with anemia (1). While it’s true that we still get about 50% more Folate from the bulb than the leaves, this distribution of folate throughout the plant makes leeks a cardioprotective food from top to bottom. (2).
Also present in leeks are impressive concentrations of antioxidant polyphenols. These polyphenols play a direct role in protecting our blood vessels and blood cells from oxidative damage. Although a little bit less concentrated than cousin G , leeks are still a very valuable food in terms of these antioxidants. These ingredients here and here will also give you the same phytonutrient properties.
How to cook them?
Unlike a few of our other ingredient highlights, we thought it would be super helpful to really break down the cooking method because when it comes to leeks, it really does matter. Here’s what you need to know:
When choosing leeks, look for ones that have a lot of white and pale green (the edible part). Why? This means the leeks were grown in trenches and then buried into the dirt to grow and stay tender. Hint: This explains why leeks are often quite dirty. The tough darker green sections are not edible, but they are an excellent ingredient for making stock and should NEVER be discarded. We’re all about using the whole plant, and carcass (check our instagram highlights for this one).
Unlike onions, leeks don’t caramelize very well. They become bitter when browned and that is not what you want to achieve. Instead, cut the leek in half lengthwise and bake/blanch or chop up in a soup recipe (see below). Pro tip: Once you cut, let the leeks sit out for 5 minutes before adding into your pot or throwing in the oven. This will allow the nutrients to break free and will provide you more value when you consume them. According to this article, there are 3 main things to keep in mind when trying to preserve nutrient value of something. They are (1) minimal necessary heat exposure; (2) minimal necessary cooking duration; (3) minimal necessary food surface contact with cooking liquid. For this reason alone, sauteing leeks on low heat with no oil is probably your best bet nutrition wise but truly, you can’t go too wrong here unless you fry the sh*t out of them.
This guide on how to wash and prep leeks by the Kitchn is also extremely helpful depending on the method of cutting your recipe calls for! Fresh leeks should be stored unwashed and untrimmed in the refrigerator, where they will keep fresh for between one and two weeks! (2)