Leeks are members of the allium family, and are most closely related to onions, scallions and shallots. However, their trademark is a mild flavor more placid than others types of onion or garlic. Summer leeks tend to be light in flavor and small, while winter leeks (the ones in season now!) are larger and bolder tasting. This vegetable is found in most parts of Texas year-round but late spring and winter are the best times to enjoy this common garden vegetable.
Tadorna Blue and King Richard are the two most popular types of winter leeks—you'll most likely find at least one of these two varieties at any local grocery store. Keep fresh leeks for a week or two in the refrigerator, unwashed and untrimmed. You can also freeze them for up to three months. Once cooked, they will stay fresh for up to two days.
Consider fresh leeks if you're making stews, soups or hearty pasta dishes. Packed with nutrients and important antioxidants, leeks offer a sweet, distinctive flavor and complement many dishes. They were a favorite of the Romans and were mentioned in the Bible's Book of Numbers as a mark of the prosperity in Egypt. Welsh soldiers wore them on their helmets in battle, likely hearkening back to Druidic days when the plant was revered for its medicinal properties. Among other cures, it was thought to end the common cold. The Welsh still consider the vegetable their national symbol, and according to the country's legend, if you want to see your future husband you should sleep with a leek under your pillow. If you try this, let us know how it goes!
Tips for Cooking Leeks
This mild, oniony taste of leek mean it can be served raw or cooked. Try shredding it into salads with Brussels sprouts and carrots or add it to your next homemade coleslaw. Leeks can be used to add flavor to stock. Try frying your leeks for crunch or boiling them then draining well and mixing with salt, black pepper and cream cheese as a tasty alternative to creamed spinach. Leeks are often used in famous soup recipes including vichyssoise, potato soup, cock-a-leekie and also leek and potato soup. In Turkish cuisine, leeks are cut into slices, boiled and separated into leaves. They are then filled with a herbed rice mixture. However you prepare your leeks remember not to cook them until they are mushy. Al dente is best for most veggies, leeks included.
In a Starring Role at: Korea Garden Restaurant
Located in Koreatown on the western stretch of Long Point, you can find this gem of a restaurant, specializing in all things delicious and Korean. Grill your own marinated meats and enjoy a wealth of sensational side dishes. If you want to incorporate some seasonal leek into your dining experience consider the yook gae jahng (spicy beef and leek soup) or hae-mool yook gae jang (spicy seafood and leek soup) to get the meal started.
Recipe: Creamy Pasta with Leeks and Bacon
If you're looking for a cozy winter meal idea, you won't go wrong with this one. Cold Houston evenings are few and far between, or so it might seem during those long summer months (which is, let's face it, most of the year), so enjoy the winter while you can by feasting on wonderful comfort food like this. We are teaming pasta with leeks, bacon, cream and Parmesan to make a delicious dish which will serve the whole family (or two adults and two kids anyway—adjust the quantities as you wish). Leftovers microwave well the next day for a quick and easy lunch. If you want to boost the healthy veggie factor, throw in some green peas, bell pepper strips or green beans towards the end of the cooking time.
- 12 ounces pasta
- 6 slices of bacon, chopped
- 1 big leek or 2 small ones
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped (optional)
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Chopped fresh parsley or parsley sprigs, for garnish
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
Bring a big pot of water to a boil, then add some salt. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving a cup of the cooking water. At the same time, you can cook the bacon in a skillet for 8 minutes or until crisp, then drain it on paper towels. Discard (or save) all but a tablespoon of the bacon drippings. Discard the dark green parts of the leeks (save them for stock for another day!), then wash them to remove any mud or grit. Now cut them in half lengthways and slice thinly. Add the leeks (and garlic, if using) to the skillet with the bacon drippings and add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Cook for 3 minutes, then stir in the cream and cook for 2 minutes or until thickened. Now add the drained cooked pasta to the skillet with the cheese, half the bacon and some black pepper. Toss to coat. You can add as much of the reserved pasta cooking water as necessary to loosen the mixture, then divide between four warmed serving bowls, topped with the rest of the bacon and some more Parmesan. Garnish each one with parsley and serve right away.
Stay tuned every week to learn more about what's fresh and exciting at the market and discover where you can enjoy the delicious bounty of the season.