Like a lot of the vegetables we can grow here with relative ease, leeks are vastly under-appreciated in North America. All over England and Europe – where many Thunder Bay residents find their roots – leeks appear in main dishes, side-dishes, soups, stews and even salads. Here they’re often considered a poor cousin caught between green onions and bulb onions, with no real commitment to either.
But this is our leeks’ time to shine, and if you haven’t made your acquaintance yet with these lovely and underrated vegetables, please give them another look now.
Leeks are cold-hardy and warm-hearted. In a part of the world where our growing season ends with a hard smash of frost in early September followed by two, three or even four weeks of “second summer,” the leek should be revered. Not only do leeks continue to stand brazenly tall and green after the frost has been at them repeatedly, they become more delicious. Many of the zappy chemicals associated with the oniony flavour of leeks take a backseat to the sugars leeks produce when frost stresses them out. Not a bad ethic on a personal level, and a great one from a culinary perspective.
Leeks are good for you. Like onions and garlic, leeks are members of the allium family. Their oniony flavour comes from flavonoids and sulphur-based nutrients, elements many nutritionists believe should be regular parts of our diets. Cooked leeks are high in vitamins K, B6, C and A, contain manganese, copper, iron and folate and are a good source of fiber.
They’re milder than onions. Earlier this week we talked about teaching kids – and ourselves – to eat new foods. Exposing your kids to the milder onion flavour of leeks can help pave the way for a full-fledged onion adoration as they grow up. Try sneaking them into homemade purees, stir-fries and egg dishes to give your kids a light taste of onion to accustom them to the flavour.
They’re great to cook with. Add leeks anywhere you’d add onions, or feature them in a dish all their own, like this one:
Leek and Potato Flan
Think of it as a Crustless Quiche. From CanadianLiving.com
4 red-skinned potatoes, (about 1 lb/500 g) * get these at the Market!
5 slices pancetta or bacon, (about 3 oz/90 g) * get this at the Market!
1 cup (250 mL) thinly sliced leeks, (white and light green parts only)
2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh thyme, (or 2 tsp/10 mL dried)
1 pinch salt
1 pinch pepper
4 oz (113 g) goat cheese * we substituted Slate River Dairy’s Yogurt Cheese from the Market
1/4 cup (60 mL) fresh parsley, chopped
3 eggs * visit Tarrymore Farms at the Market for eggs!
2/3 cup (150 mL) 10% cream
1/3 cup (75 mL) milk
In saucepan of boiling salted water, cover and cook potatoes until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and let cool slightly; cut into 1/2-inch (1 cm) thick slices. Place in large bowl.
Coarsely chop pancetta. In nonstick skillet, cook pancetta over medium heat until just beginning to crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towel.
Add leek, thyme, salt and pepper to pan; cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add to potatoes along with goat cheese and all but 2 tbsp (25 mL) each of the pancetta and parsley; toss to combine. Spread in greased 9-inch (23 cm) quiche dish or pie plate.
In bowl, whisk together eggs, cream and milk; pour over potato mixture. Scatter remaining pancetta and parsley over top. (Make-ahead: Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.)
Bake in bottom third of 375°F (190°C) oven until puffed and just set in centre, about 35 minutes.
Find leeks on many of our vendors’ tables tomorrow at our Saturday Market, or visit us next Wednesday for what might be our last Outdoor Market of the year!