Season for Leeks Available Year Round, Peak in Fall & Spring
Leeks resemble over-sized scallions, and a tad paradoxically, taste like a watered-down version - albeit in the best sense. Think of them as mild and sweet with a delicate flavor - understated and sophisticated if you will. Leeks throw in their subtle touch to recipes without overshadowing fellow ingredients. Indeed, related to garlic, onions, shallots and scallions (or green onions), leeks carry a little essence of each. The culinary enhancing powers of leeks cannot be overstated, but definitely seem to be under-appreciated.
How to Buy and Store Leeks
Choose leeks that are firm and crisp with brightly-colored stalks and a brilliantly-white bulb free of cracks or blemishes. Avoid any with withered or yellow-spotted leaves. The smaller leek you choose, the more tender it will be. Store your fresh leeks wrapped loosely in the refrigerator for up to a week - unwashed and untrimmed. Once cooked leeks are highly perishable, and even when kept in the refrigerator, will only stay fresh for a couple of days.
How to Cook Leeks
The fine layers of a leek tend to hold onto a lot of grit, so before using them; trim rootlets and leaf ends, slit the leeks from top to bottom, fanning them out and wash thoroughly to remove all the dirt trapped between the leaf layers. You can also cut them into rings first and then submerge them in a bowl of cool water to release the dirt. Leeks can be used in a multitude of ways - thinly sliced and added to salads or sauteed with all manner of other ingredients. They pair nicely with fennel! If you often feel overpowered by garlic or onions in your recipes, consider substituting this milder friend.
Health Benefits of Leeks
Though the Greek philosopher Aristotle credited the partridges' melodic song to a diet of leeks and the Roman emperor Nero ate copious amounts of leeks for a strong voice, the health benefits of leeks go well beyond fostering a healthy "Om," and we're not so sure about that anyways.
Leeks have similar nutritional benefits as its relatives - the onion and garlic - providing a good source of fiber, folic acid, vitamins C and B6, manganese, and iron. Studies have shown that leeks can improve the immune system, lower bad cholesterol levels, and fight cancer.
Why Buy Natural and Organic Leeks
While you can remove a leek's outer layer, that doesn't mean your leek won't contain pesticides. In fact, since leeks grow outward, layer upon layer, all those pesticides sprayed over the span of the leek's growing life could be trapped in those inner layers - just as all the grit we spoke of earlier. And conventional leeks are sprayed with a multitude of chemicals! Buy your leeks organically.