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What you need to know about leeks

The leek is a vegetable that can be defined as “popular,” as it has been, for millennia, one of the main foods of the poorest sections of the population. Perhaps this legacy makes it hard to appreciate the advantages and traits of the leek nowadays, making it seem like a meal that is underappreciated. However, in terms of nutritional profile, it can offer a lot.

Leeks are high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, but they come at the expense of a minimum caloric intake of 61 kcal per 100 grammes (believe me, it takes a lot to make a pound of leeks!). It doesn’t disappoint in terms of vitamins, since it contains C and K. Leek also has diuretic and detoxifying properties, which have a positive effect on the liver and kidneys. Finally, leeks are rich in antioxidants, which are good for the cardiovascular system and help prevent many tumours.

Varieties of leeks

The leek is a plant with an annual cycle; therefore, it follows the sowing-harvesting rhythm and does not have a precise season. The varieties are mainly distinguished by their ripening periods. Here are the most consumed ones:

  • Summer Long. Suitable for short-term cooking, it is perfect for delicate side dishes.
  • It is characterised by a very fleshy and crunchy body. It is an early variety with an intense flavour.
  • Carentan. Large in size, it is characterised by a slightly acidic flavour and tender pulp. It is a summer variety.
  • Winter Giant. It is a winter variety, and the pulp is firm and a little sweet. It resists high, prolonged cooking; therefore, it is ideal for risottos.

How to use leeks in the kitchen

Leek has mainly two uses. First of all, as a stir-fry ingredient, in this case, it is accompanied by onions and carrots. Obviously, it is possible to make a sauté without leeks, but this ingredient adds greater flavour and body.

The second use is as an actual ingredient and not just as a supporting ingredient. To be honest, there aren’t many recipes that feature leeks as the main ingredient. Worth mentioning, however, are risottos, pasta first courses—in particular spaghetti—as well as delicate velvety soups and creams. For these latter preparations, leek is often accompanied by potatoes, as the two ingredients enhance each other. It can be prepared as a side dish, especially for meat-based main courses.