Lucious Leeks, not just a second rate onion!
The humble leek can be traced back to ancient Egypt, in the time of the Pharaohs.
A cousin of the onion, leeks have a milder flavour and are a good substitute. Depending on the variety they have either long or short white stems with green leaves or ‘flags’. In terms of size, the smaller ones are more tender with big, thick leeks described as ‘pot leeks’ (best for soup)!
Nutritionally, leeks have similar properties to garlic with high allicin levels which give it antimicrobial, cholesterol lowering and potential anti-cancer properties. As with all vegetables they are high in nutrients, low in calories and a good source of fiber.
What to look for
The best leeks are about 2cm in diameter, not too thin to be fiddly and not so thick as to be tough. Look for a long white stem and fresh green tops. Avoid anything dried up, wizened, blotchy or mushy.
How to clean
Cut the leek through the middle lengthwise, keeping the root end intact. Clean under running water by separating the leaves and using your fingers to rub away any dirt caught in the leaf creases.
What parts to use
The white part of the leek is the most tender, the younger green leaves can also be used. Any tatty leaves can be discarded, but even the fairly leathery green parts can be used to flavour stock.
Here are three fantastic soups making leeks a star of the show!
Makes enough for 4 - 6
1 large leek
2 med carrots
2 sticks celery
¼ small turnip
½ mugful broth mix or a mixture of lentils, dried peas, split peas and pearl barley
About 2 ltr chicken stock
½ tsp chopped parsley.
- Heat the stock in a heavy based pan and add the broth mix. Simmer for about 20 min while you chop the vegetables.
- Chop the vegetables to about 5mm dice and add to the stock and broth mix. Bring to the boil, and simmer for another 20 min to cook the vegetables.
- Check seasoning, stir through the parsley and serve. If the soup is very thick, add a little more stock until it is the preferred consistency.
Leek & Cauliflower Gratin
Serves 4 - 6
1 medium cauliflower
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce (optional)
Salt & pepper
50g cheddar cheese
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 leeks, sliced into 5mm slices
1 tin cannellini beans, drained
250g Greek yogurt
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp butter or oil
1 tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp chopped parsley
½ tsp smoked paprika
- Preheat the oven to 170C325F/Gas3
- Cut the cauliflower into medium florets and put into a snuf fitting oven proof dish or roasting tin. Drizzle with the oil, and toss with the sweet chilli sauce, salt & pepper. Bake for 20mins or until the cauli is tender.
- Heat the oil in a heavy based pan with a lid, add the sliced leeks, fry a little, then turn the heat to low, put the lid on the pan and allow to sweat for 15mins or until soft.
- Mix the cheddar, mustard, yogurt and parsley together.
- Once the leeks are cooked, remove from the heat, stir through the cannellini beans and the sauce. Pour over the cooked cauli and turn everything gently with a large spoon to mix.
- Mix together the Parmesan cheese, parsley and smoked paprika. Sprinkle over the top of the cauli mixture.
- Increase the oven heat to 200C/400F/Gas6, put the cauli back into the oven for 10mins to brown and crisp the top. Serve as it is or with a green salad.
This soup can often be found on the menu at a Burns Supper or St Andrew’s Night Dinner. Good stock makes all the difference to this soup.
1 ltr good chicken stock
chicken leg – thigh and drumstick
1 bay leaf
225g/8oz leeks – split, cleaned and cut into 1cm pieces
85g/2oz pitted prunes – soaked overnight if not ready to eat.
- Put the chicken legs into a large pot with the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 1 hour, skimming the surface every so often.
- After an hour, remove the chicken and allow to cool a little.
- Add the leeks and prunes to the pot and simmer again for 20 min.
- Remove the meat from the chicken, discarding the skin and bones.
- Add the meat back to the soup, season and serve.
Leek Souffle Tart
Serves 4 - 5
6oz/175g plain flour
grind of black pepper
1 medium leek – finely sliced
¼ tsp turmeric
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp flour
2 eggs separated
1 tbsp lemon
1 tbsp parsley
1oz/30g grated parmesan cheese
50ml Greek yogurt, crème fraiche or double cream
- Make the pastry either in a food processor or by hand: combine the flour and butter until the mixture is like crumbs, add the black pepper and egg and bring together to form a ball of dough. Wrap in cling film and allow to rest for 20 min in the fridge.
- Set the oven to 200C/400F/gas6
- Roll the pastry out thinly, line a 20cm flan ring or dish and bake blind in the oven for 15 min or until the edges of the pastry begin to turn golden.
- Sweat the leeks in the olive oil until soft.
- Add the turmeric and flour and cook for a minute.
- Remove from the heat, add the milk and stir well to combine.
- Return the pan to the heat and bring gently to the boil to make a sauce.
- Remove the pan from the heat, allow to cool slightly and add the parmesan cheese, yogurt, parsley, lemon juice and salt and pepper.
- Add the egg yolks and stir to combine.
- Whip the egg whites to stiff peak and fold into the leek mixture.
- Turn the oven down to 180C/350F/gas5 and bake tart for 20 – 30 minutes until set, puffed up and golden brown.
Smoked Haddock & Leek Skink
This is an adaptation of traditional Cullen Skink, using leeks instead of onions ‘skink’ comes from the Gaelic meaning ‘essence’. Now days it means a ‘soup-stew’.
500g/1lb undyed smoked haddock fillets
1 medium leek, cleaned & sliced
900ml/1 ½ pints whole milk
1 – 2 large floury potatoes – peeled and diced
1 bay leaf
Freshly grated nutmeg
Chives and parsley to garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
- Melt the butter in a large pan and cook the leek until soft, add the potato.
- In a separate pan, heat the milk with the bay leaf & nutmeg, add the haddock. Simmer for 10 min or less until the fish is cooked.
- Pour the milk used to poach the fish onto the leek and potatoes, bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the potato is soft.
- Remove the fish to a plate and once cool enough to handle, remove any skin and flake the fish gently.
- Use a potato masher to crush the potatoes in the soup. Remove the bay leaf and add the fish back to the pan. Stir, season and bring the soup back to a simmer.
- Stir through the chives and serve garnished with chopped parsley.
Chicken, Leek & Parsley Pie
One of those great, plain pies that satisfy on a cold night.
2 medium leeks, cleaned and sliced
400g cooked chicken, torn into bite sized pieces
3 tbsp flour
400ml chicken stock
20g parsley, chopped
Salt & pepper
300g puff pastry
- Pre heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6
- Melt the butter in a heavy based pan over a medium heat, add the leeks and cook for a few minutes until softened.
- Add the flour, stir into the leeks and cook again for a few minutes to cook out the flour.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the stock. Stir well to stir out any lumps, then put back onto a medium high heat and bring to the boil, stirring all the time.
- Remove from the heat, add the parsley, season with salt & pepper, then stir in the chicken. Tip into a pie dish.
- Roll the pastry out slightly larger than the pie dish. Cut some strips from the pastry, with a little water, wet the edge of the pie dish and stick the strips around the edge of the dish. Brush the pastry edging with a little more water and drape over the remaining piece of pastry.
- Press the pastry gently around the rim of the dish. Brush with egg wash, decorate with pastry scraps if you have time. Brush again with egg wash.
- Put the pie into the oven and bake for 30 mins, until golden brown.