A member of the onion family, leeks (Allium porrum) are native to Asia and the Middle East, where they have been eaten since ancient times and are even mentioned in the Bible. Leeks are very popular in Europe, where they are revered in Wales as a national symbol of religious freedom. The word ‘leek’ purportedly means only ‘plant,’ lending itself to several names like sibling garlic, once pronounced ‘gar-leek.’ Elephant garlic is actually a type of bulbing leek with cloves, and not garlic at all.
Leeks look like oversized, thick green onions with bluish-green broad leaves and a thick white compacted sheaf (often incorrectly called a stem or stalk) that grows up to 10 inches long. Considered “the gourmet’s onion,” leeks have a subtly delicious flavor and are milder and sweeter than garlic or other onion varieties. The white lower part of the plant, the actual leek, can be consumed raw or cooked, but the green leaves should be discarded.
Leeks are steamed, boiled, braised, or fried and eaten whole. They are also frequently chopped or crushed and added to soups, sauces, casseroles, and other dishes. The unique green vegetable is an essential ingredient in vichyssoise, a classic thick soup made from pureed leeks, potatoes, chicken stock, and cream, traditionally served cold.
References: Clemson University Cooperative Extension, Produce for Better Health Foundation, University of Maryland Extension, University of Minnesota Extension, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, Washington State University.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
Depending on the planting season and region, leeks come in a wide range of varieties. Some of the more popular options include American Flag, Arkansas, Bandit, Carina, Columbus, Derrick, Electra, Gigante d’Inverno, Jersey, Jolant, King Richard, Lancelot, Lexton, Lincoln, Megaton, Musselburgh, Pandora, Rally, Tadorna, Titan, Tivi, and Varna.
References: Clemson University Cooperative Extension, Cornell University, Michigan State University Extension, New England Vegetable Management Guide, Oregon State University.