The leek is an awesome member of the onion family! They make the perfect complement for any meal! Offering a snappy, yet subtle flavor leeks easily make it a favorite vegetable of choice from the garden! Its original habitat comes from the Mediterranean and the Middle East. This scallion-looking vegetable has its largest producers coming from the regions of Belgium, France, Indonesia, the Korean Republic, and Turkey. Although they do look like green onions, leeks are bigger in size.
Let’s Get Leeky!
Ideally, firm leeks measuring less than 3 inches in diameter are best! When picking them from the garden or market, aim for leeks that have dark green, lush leaves.
Table Of Contents
- History of Leeks
- Cleaning Leeks
- Seven Leek Storage Techniques
- in water
- pre-cooked (in olive oil)
- root cellar
- solar food dryer
#1 – History of Leeks
A Leeky History Lesson – The Latin name for the leek is Allium porrum. The word Allium shows its relation to the onion family. Even so, onions are considered to be harsher, or even low-brow. Leeks have a more upscale appeal. The flavor is thought to be more subtle and sweet than the average onion.
Although scientists are by no means certain, it is believed that leeks, like many herbs, are native to the Mediterranean area and possibly Asia Minor. Even though leeks have only recently become popular in the United States, they have been grown and used for cooking for more than 3,000 years in Asia and Europe.
Even the Bible mentions leeks! In Numbers (11:5) we read, “Remember how in Egypt we had fish tor the asking, cucumbers, and watermelons, leeks and onions and garlic.”
This was from a lament by the Israelites as they wandered in the desert searching for the Promised Land. Later leeks would be traditionally consumed on Rosh Hashanah. It was meant to symbolize the desire for the people to have their enemies “cut off”. This came from the idea that the Hebrew word for leek is karti, which is similar to the verb, to cut off, or yikartu.
It is widely reported that the Emperor, Nero (37-68 AD), ate leeks in quantity, cooked in oil. He believed it would improve his singing voice. He was so well known for eating leeks that he acquired the nickname, Porophagus (leek eater).
Leeks may have been introduced to Wales via Phoenician traders and it has since become a national symbol. The subsequent popularity of leeks in that country is exhibited by the fact that in 620 AD (or perhaps 640), King Cadwallader and his men wore leeks in their hats to differentiate themselves from their enemies, the Saxons. This onion-like vegetable was associated with Saint David and it was said that any maiden who slept with a leek under her pillow on his feast day (March 1) would see her future husband in her dreams!
Leeks were first brought to the United States, Canada, and Australia by the early settlers of those respective nations.
The French call the leek, poireau, which also means “simpleton”.
In Europe, leeks are thought of as a kind of “poor man’s asparagus”.
Agatha Christie named one of her most famous characters, the French detective, Poirot, after the leek.
Today leeks are not as popular as they were in ancient times, largely because other similar vegetables such as onions are more convenient to use.
#2 Cleaning Leeks
Step One: Trim off the roots and the dark green tops. (the light-colored parts of the leek are ideal for cooking, but the darker leaves can also be used for stock.)
Step Two: Cut the leeks into sections, approximately 4 inches long.
Step Three: Lengthwise, cut each leek section in half.
Step Four: In a bowl or baking dish put in 1/3 vinegar to 2/3 water, then submerge the leeks underwater and simply let them float. This allows the dirt to fall off and sink to the bottom. (Make sure to check each layer for hidden dirt and wipe them off, using a soft food-safe scrub brush to get rid of anything that’s harder to remove.)
#3 Seven Leek Storage Techniques
Depending on the freshness of the leek, they can typically be stored anywhere from a few days up to nearly a year. Leeks can be canned, frozen, pickled, or refrigerated. Whatever the storage preference is simply boils down to how you like to eat your leeks.
#1 – Canning
In a large pot large enough to hold all the leeks fill it with water and add a pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil.
In a bowl large enough to hold the leeks, fill it with ice water. (If you haven’t removed the dark green leaves at this point, now would be the time to do so before proceeding! It is recommended you still keep 1/4 an inch worth of dark green on the stalks.
In the boiling water, blanch the leek leaves for 30 seconds. Then, quickly move them straight out of the pot and into the ice water to shock the leaves. This will prevent them from cooking any further than they need to.
Drain all excess water from the leeks through a colander, then patting dry on a towel. Once certain they are completely dry, they are now ready to be placed into canning jars.
Using a saucepan, heat the mixture of coriander seeds, fennel seeds, peppercorn, red chili flakes, salt, sugar, thyme, vinegar, and water. The goal here is to bring the water to a boil and completely dissolve the sugar. Once this has been accomplished, pour the mixture over the leeks in each jar.
As fast as you can, close each jar with canning lids as tight as you can. Allow the jars to cool completely before storing them in the refrigerator. Through this method, these canned leeks can be stored for up to three months.
#2 – Freezing
I recommend cleaning and preparing (as mentioned in the cleaning section above) before lining the leeks up so you can dice them down into what will then make them look like little greenish half-moons.
The best recommendation would be to boil up half a pot of water, add a pinch of salt, and then blanch the leeks for about thirty seconds. Once ready, lay them out flat on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet to cool.
Now, you can either freeze the leeks while on the baking sheet or simply scoop and fill freezer-safe containers or bags. Leeks previously frozen enough before putting them into freezer storage containment will prevent them from forming a clump. This way, if you only prefer to use a few leeks at a time with ease, you can simply take what you need, and voila!
Frozen leeks, pending on how you choose to freeze them, can last up to a year when properly stored. However, like all frozen produce, leeks will lose some texture and flavor as a result.
#3 – In Water
Placing your previously prepared leeks into a glass container (like a jar) of cold water will maintain their freshness for about two days for as long as it’s kept in a cool, dark place. Wilting will result if the room temperature is too hot or humid.
#4 – Pre-Cooked (In Olive Oil)
After cleaning and cutting the leeks, you can either pre-cook them as is or dice them down so you have little half-moon shapes. From there, saute into a preheated pan that’s been coated with olive oil.
Don’t cook the leeks for too long! The idea is to add just a hint of heat to them without actually cooking them fully! Once ready, put them into a container and freeze them for later use.
There is also an alternative option to blanch, blend and puree the full leeks in a food processor. For best results, add the olive oil to make it a smoother outcome! When ready, pour them into ice cube trays and have them frozen enough so you pop them out and place them into a ziplock bag. Keep them in the freezer so when the time comes to use them, just grab what you need and let it melt into whatever meal you’re cooking!
You can just pour the puree as-is into freezer-safe containers if that’s your preference. However, when the time comes to cook with them, there will be a waiting period until enough thaws enough to work with!
#5 – Refrigeration
First off, make sure the entire leek remains uncut, untrimmed, and unwashed should this be your option! Any kind of cleaning, cutting, or trimming invites rot. I’m certain you don’t want that!
Storing leeks in the refrigerator at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as at a 95-100 humidity level is highly recommended! Too much warmth and humidity will cause them to go from green to yellow, as well as wilt.
Open leeks in the fridge set out an aroma that can be absorbed by other items in it while it permeates. If you intend to use the leeks within two days, gently wrap them up inside a ziplock bag so that they can maintain their moisture as well as control their odor for as long as they are kept in the crisper/hydrate area.
Should you choose to store the leeks in the fridge for more than two days, I recommend you wrap them in a damp towel and then bundle them with a rubber band. Put them inside a perforated plastic bag so they will keep their moisture longer. Again, make sure to store these in the crisper/hydrator section of your fridge. The leeks should be able to maintain their freshness for up to ten days while there.
The shelf life of cooked leeks is very short as they become highly perishable! Even while refrigerated, they will not have more than two days before they lose deteriorate! Smaller leeks usually last a bit longer than the larger ones.
When it’s time to cook the leeks, this will then be the best opportunity to cut, wash, and prep them in a manner you see fit!
#6 – Root Cellar
It is recommended to keep the leeks heavily mulched in the garden until the ground hardens as winter approaches. When the time comes, carefully dig them up and make sure they stay intact! Fill a deep container with soil and place the leeks upright inside the dirt.
The optimal root cellar temperature should be at 32 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure they can be stored anywhere from three to four months.
Among the best varieties of leeks for this type of storage are Arena, Elephant, Giant Musselburgh, Nebraska, and Zermatt.
Sitting on trays within a containment made with elements to absorb heat, typical solar food dryers use a polycarbonate sheeting or glass window.
(Canadians link here if you want to view the product featured in further detail.)
After washing and thinly cutting the leeks, place them, single-layered, on a tray. The heat absorption from the sun’s energy will dehydrate them through a process where the cool air enters and then warms up as it circulates within the boxed area. This will take away the moisture as the air escapes outward.
Quality polycarbonate screens can allow as much as 80% of the sun’s energy, allowing the temperature within the solar food dryer to reach anywhere from 100 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit within a matter of minutes! And, within a few hours, the leeks are dehydrated enough for storage sufficient enough to get through the winter!
Recipe Leek Out!
Hey, do you need a few recipes featuring leeks? Okay then, here’s a couple of personal favorites of mine that have proven to be crowd favorites whenever I offered them as a caterer;