Leeks are in the onion (allium) family of vegetables. They are grown for their white “stalks” (actually a bundle of leaf sheaths), which grow above the ground. We hill them (pile dirt around them) to encourage larger while stalks. Leeks grow in layers like onions, but they have a tender, mild and sweet flavour and less water content than onions. Leeks are one of those veggies that you can cook something with and it turns out so delicious you can’t believe you made it. Leek & Potato Soup is one of our all-time favourite soups!
Leeks are hard to grow mostly because they are started in February or early March from seeds in the greenhouse. We use a vacuum seeder to help us get one seed per cell in the trays, which hold 288 plugs each. They grow slowly and by the time we transplant them into the field 3 months later they are scarcely bigger than a wisp. They are then weeded all season by hand, tools, and tractor, and they also have to be hilled so that the white parts grow bigger. It’s not “hard”, but there are a lot of steps and if you expect to throw some seeds in the ground and harvest leeks in the fall you’ll be sorely disappointed.
The variety of leeks we grow get very big, so you may find that one leek is the same as an entire bunch from the store. No, they don’t go “bad” when they get big (neither do onions, potatoes, beets, carrots, etc– all things that often grow quite big for us), it just makes for less cutting and less waste!
Season: Leeks are ready in late August and we can keep them until February, but usually run out long before then!
Storage Tips: Leeks store well in the fridge for a few weeks. If you store them covered and the outer leaves get slimy or yellow, simply peel a layer or two off before cutting. When you store them in the fridge uncovered, they may get dehydrated, but it is simple enough to remove the dried outer layer before using. They are in the onion family, so may give off an odor that could be absorbed by other foods if not stored in a bag or container.
Preparation Tips: I’ve seen many instructions on how to cut leeks in order to make sure you get all the dirt out, but by far the easiest (and what I do now) is to just chop them up and then wash them well in a colander! Otherwise, if you stop cutting where the dirt begins you waste half the vegetable. Most recipes tell you to clean leeks by halving them lengthwise along the shank. Run water in between all the layers to remove any trapped sand or dirt. This works too!
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
•Add finely chopped leeks to salads
•Add leeks to stocks and stews for extra flavouring
•Add sliced leeks to your favourite omelet or frittata recipe
Leeks are ideal in sauces, soups, casseroles and stir-fries. I urge you to try this Cock-a-Leekie Pie recipe. It’s easier than it sounds, uses a lot of leeks, and is buttery and delicious and suitable for company! Don’t skip the prunes… I was skeptical, but so glad that I included them! I’ve already expressed that Leeks are the sort of vegetable that make everything you cook taste like a gourmet chef made it! It’s true. They are sweeter and milder than onions, and can even be sliced thinly and eaten raw on salads (think Green Onions). Leeks can be substituted in most recipes that call for onion. They can also be sauteed in butter on their own as a side dish, or mixed with carrots or other veggies. A friend who made sausages had a flavour “Buttered Leek”, which was my absolute favourite, and tied back to her own British roots. Leeks and butter is a magical combination!