Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Leek: Yummy vegetable or evil mutant cousin to the onion?

The leek does not in fact leak, nor does it grow in leaks or require the presence of leaks. In fact there is no similarity between it and it's similar sounding verbiage…nope none at all. So, you can officially stop sautéing rusty pipes now. Actually, a leek is a root fruit bridging the gap between onions and garlic. Consider how many times you have thought to yourself, now I don't want to use garlic – too strong and I don't want to use onions – too weak, what to do? Well, curiously enough, leeks have been there just waiting, begging, for you to invite them to dance.

They've been around since the Romans, and they are an absolute hit in European countries, but here in America, we seem to give them some distance. Why? Is it because they look like freakishly large mutated green onions? Or, maybe it is simply because we get nervous around new veggies that we haven't already tried fried? Either way, leeks are primed to make a big comeback in the next few months. We've had a great season in California for them, which will result in trendy markets being filled with them and equally trendy restaurants charging an arm and a leg for a teaspoon of leek sautéed in lamb's milk. So before we get to that point, lets take the leek on as our own root fruit and enjoy it before they remember it's out there.

Test Drive
So you're ready to give leeks a go? Here's a great recipe that brings out the full flavor of the leeks.

Roasted Chicken Breast with Pancetta, Leeks and Thyme
adapted from the amazing Chef Jamie Oliver’s recipe:
One skinless chicken breast or leg,
One large leek,
Four slices of pancetta or bacon.
You will also need white wine and olive oil, as well as salt, pepper, and garlic to your taste.
Come to think of it, grab several sprigs of thyme while you're at it.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Slice the leeks as thinly as you can, and crush each clove of garlic.
Put the vegetables in a bowl with a healthy splash of olive oil and wine, and season with pepper. (You can add a bit of salt too, but remember that the pancetta is very salty).
Stir everything round a bit, then lay in an appropriately sized roasting pan or just make your own custom pan from heavy aluminum foil.
Tuck the chicken into the bed of leeks for a nap, and cover the pan with a comfy blanket of bacon. Make sure that nothing is peaking out.
Let the whole thing roast happily for half an hour, then dish out with something earthy. Perhaps a few turnips, sautéed up with their greens? Or perhaps you’ve got some roast potatoes and parsnips?

Either way, this recipe is low prep, delicious, and delightfully elastic. The leeks steam their peppery flavor into the chicken, and the thyme rounds things out. The pancetta keeps the leeks and chicken from burning, and drips its lovely fat down to keep everything moist while it crisps on top. The ingredients listed here are for a single serving, just double it up for additional people.

Picking and Choosing
You should look for leeks that are firm and straight. Ideally, you want to see dark green leaves and bright white bulbs. Yay for mutant green onions! As is the case with root fruit, always go for smaller bulbs (1-1.5 inches) and try to make sure they're all roughly similar in size.

Nutritive Breakdown
A cup of boiled leeks yields roughly 32 calories, 1.14 mg of iron and 4.36 mg of vitamin C. Luckily for the carb conscious among us, that cup only yields roughly 8 grams of carbohydrates with about one gram coming from sugar. Despite this, you're only looking at about one gramof protein as well, so you're going to want to make sure to pair this with meat or beans.

Leeks are Allium veggies, which are said to lower LDL cholesterol (Nasty Fat Bartender Stuff) and promote HDL cholesterol (Think the trace amounts of fat Lance Armstrong may have). Due to their close relation to garlic (health nut's favorite root fruit), leeks have the reputation of curing everything from Ovarian Cancer to headaches and insomnia. We'll leave it to you as to if you are buying that. And, if you're sautéing them in butter, broiling them or generally covering them in yummy fat stuffs, then the nutritive properties remain the same, but you level up on some steadying calories.

So there you have it, leeks are an amazing veggie, versatile and widely available in the winter. Plus, they are cheap, so you really have no excuse not to give them a go.

Recuerde, para el hombre no hay mal pan...


sexyrebelleader said...

you forgot to mention the classic vichyssoise. Perhaps not carb-conscious, but spring and summer are coming right up, and potatoes are a classic french companion to leeks.