As we head into colder months, the Leek Grower’s Association is urging people not to forget the benefits of the British leek as the fat-free, nutrient rich answer to staying healthy and helping combat colds this winter.
From keeping sore throats at bay to improving the quality of the singing voice, this ‘upmarket onion’ or ‘poor man’s asparagus’ is a must-have on shopping lists across the country as the British leek season kicks off from 1 November and runs through to April.
More refined, subtle and sweet than the average onion and packed with anti-oxidants, the leek has long been treasured in Europe and the Mediterranean where it has been grown and cooked for more than 3,000 years. Rich in iron, vitamin B6, vitamin C and folate it is used in traditional medicines to treat a variety of ailments including the common cold, gout, ‘bad’ cholesterol, kidney stones as well as protecting against cancer.
Whether you like them roasted, baked, braised or boiled, leeks are easier to digest than onions, have laxative, antiseptic, diuretic and anti-arthritic properties. Just half a cup of leeks counts as one serving so check out the British leek website www.britishleeks.co.uk for mouth-watering, seasonal recipes, developed for The Leek Grower’s Association by leading chef, author of “Healthy, Speedy Suppers” and Daily Telegraph food columnist Katriona MacGregor.
Katriona says: “It’s a joy to cook and eat together and to nourish yourself and your family with healthful, seasonal recipes that have the power to make you feel healthy, well and energised.”
Did you know?
• The French call the leek, ‘poireau’ which also means ‘simpleton’ in Europe.
• Agatha Christie named one of her most famous characters, the French detective Poirot, after the leek.
• The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, credited the clear voice of the partridge to a diet of leeks.
• It is widely reported the Roman Emperor Nero (37-68 AD) ate leeks in quantity, cooked in oil, to improve his singing voice. He became known as Porophagus or ‘leek eater’.
• Even the bible mentions leeks. The Israelites lamented the loss of one of their favourite foods as they searched for the Promised Land.
• St David, the Patron Saint of Wales, ordered his soldiers to wear leeks on their helmets in battle to differentiate themselves from the invading enemy, the Saxons.
• The leek is widely recognised as the national symbol of Wales.
• In Elizabethan times, Shakespeare refers to the custom of wearing a leek as ‘an ancient tradition’. Henry V tells Fluellen he is wearing a leek “for I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.”
• In traditional medicine, the leek is highly regarded as a cure for the common cold, alleviating the pains of childbirth and a tasty, healthy ingredient in cawl, the traditional Welsh broth.
• A means of foretelling the future and keeping away evil spirits, the leek was also placed under a pillow at night so young maidens could see the features of their future husbands.
Katriona’s new, seasonal, leek-based recipes include:
ALL RECIPES SERVE 4
This delicious salad really shows off young baby leeks, their sweetness combining beautifully with the smoky depth lent by char-grilling. Making leeks a centrepiece like this is quite unusual and is the perfect accompaniment to a Sunday Roast or elegant light lunch.
400g baby leeks
Zest of ½ a lemon
12 basil leaves, shredded
Small handful parsley, chopped
20g pine nuts, toasted
½ tsp honey
½ tsp English mustard
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
A handful of rocket
Salt and pepper
Remove any tough outer leaves from the baby leeks. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the leeks for 2 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water. Drain once again and pat dry with kitchen paper to remove any excess water.
Slice the courgettes into eight lengthways and remove the seeds with a sharp knife. Place in a large bowl with the leeks, drizzle with a little oil and season with salt and pepper.
Heat a char-grill pan until smoking and add the vegetables, in batches, so you don’t overcrowd the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side until lightly charred and keep to one side.
To make the dressing, whisk together the honey, mustard, olive oil and vinegar with a little salt and pepper.
Pour the dressing over the char-grilled vegetables, adding the herbs, lemon zest and rocket. Toss together well. Taste to check the seasoning and tip onto a serving dish, sprinkling with pine nuts just before you serve the salad.
One of the quickest healthy suppers there is, baking fish in a parcel with flavourful leeks and herbs, really maximises flavour. If sole is elusive, this recipe also works well with sea bass, bream or trout fillets.
300g leeks, trimmed
100g frozen petit pois, defrosted
2 lemon sole, skinned and each filleted into four
8 tbsp white wine
½ lemon, zest and juice
1 tbsp capers
A handful of dill, chopped
A handful of chives, chopped
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200C / Gas Mark 6
Slice the leeks thinly on the diagonal. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the sliced leeks for 1 minute. Refresh in cold water, drain and tip into a bowl with the petit pois. Add the herbs, a little salt and pepper and a drop of olive oil and mix together.
To make the parcels, cut out four large sheets of baking parchment. Divide the leek mixture between the four squares, placing a pile in the middle of each and spreading out slightly with the back of a spoon. Lay two fillets of sole on top of each pile of vegetables.
Drizzle with olive oil and then sprinkle over the capers and a little lemon zest. Season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Fold the edges of the paper together, from the outer edges towards the middle, twisting to seal. Just before you seal the parcels, add 2 tbsp of white wine to each.
Place the parcels on a large baking tray in the centre of the oven for 10-12 minutes, until the fish is just cooked through. Remove from the oven and serve immediately, still in the parcels if you like.Leek and Butterbean Soup
Rich, thick and warming, this soup has a lovely, velvety texture. Perfect for chilly winter days, it’s inexpensive, quick to make and perfect either for a light supper or filling lunch at work or school.
400g leeks, trimmed and sliced
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 x 400g tin butterbeans, drained
4 sprigs of thyme, leaves only
1 bay leaf
70ml extra virgin olive oil
1.1L chicken / vegetable stock – quantity tbc
Heat a little butter or oil in a large sauce pan and add the sliced onions and leeks. Cook gently for 10 minutes until softened, covered with a lid. Don’t allow the leeks to stick to the bottom of the pan and burn as they will become bitter. After 10 minutes, add the garlic, thyme, bay leaf and a little salt and pepper and continue to cook in the same way for a further 10 minutes.
Drain the butterbeans, rinse, and tip into the pan with the leeks. Cook for 2 more minutes, still covered with a lid and then pour over the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
Using a jug blender if possible, but alternatively a hand held stick blender, blend until very smooth and velvety in consistency, adding the extra virgin olive oil as you blend.
Tip back into a clean pan and taste to check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as needed and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice. Return to the heat and when piping hot, serve. Top with a drizzle of olive oil, cream or perhaps a crumbling of goat’s cheese or croutons.Leek, lamb and nigella seed casserole
Sweet leeks are a heavenly partner to lamb and in this simple casserole, you only have a handful of ingredients to prepare before the dish goes into the oven to cook quietly on its own. If possible, make it the day before you plan to eat, giving the flavours time to develop.
1.1kg boned lamb shoulder, diced into 2” pieces
400-450g leeks, trimmed and sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 heaped tbsp nigella seeds
1 heaped tbsp wholegrain mustard
500ml chicken or lamb stock
Large handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Preheat the oven to 160C / Gas Mark 3
Heat a little oil in a large casserole pan and brown the diced lamb in batches, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. Make sure you brown the pieces on all sides, to give plenty of flavour, adding more oil as you need it. Keep to one side.
Once all of the lamb is browned, add the sliced leeks to the same pan and cook for 2-3 minutes over a moderate heat, stirring. Add the garlic and nigella seeds and turn the heat down, to cook the leeks as gently as possible. Cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes, being careful not to let the leeks stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Stir and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Return the lamb to the pan along with the wholegrain mustard, parsley and stock. Stir well, season with salt and pepper and bring to a gentle simmer. Return the lid to the pot and place in the centre of the oven for 1 ½ hours.
At this point, taste the casserole, checking to see if the lamb is tender. If not, return to the oven for a further 30 minutes.
This classic combination of leek, cider and chorizo is a perfect complement to both chicken and pheasant. Earthy and rich, this is a great supper dish and one that you can make from start to finish in 45 minutes. If you can’t find chorizo, smoked bacon lardons will make a great alternative.
4 chicken breasts, with skin
100g chorizo, cubed
400g leeks, trimmed and sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 handfuls parsley, chopped
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp flour
100ml chicken stock
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 190C.
Heat a little oil in a large frying pan and fry the chicken breasts, skin side down, until golden brown. Flip over and fry for 1 minute on the other side. Remove from the pan and place in an ovenproof dish.
Add the chorizo to the same pan and fry for 2-3 minutes until slightly golden. Add the leeks, garlic, thyme and parsley and fry gently for 10 minutes until softened. Add the flour and stir well over the heat for 1 minute.
Stir in the stock, followed by the cider and bring to the boil. Season with salt and pepper and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
Real comfort food, this recipe can be made vegetarian by omitting the prosciutto and if you’re following a gluten free diet, simply replace the pappardelle with a gluten-free alternative.
80g prosciutto or parma ham, sliced into ribbons
170g wild mushrooms, torn into small pieces
450g leeks, trimmed
1 clove garlic, crushed
10 chives, finely chopped
Slice the leeks into thin strips, as you would for a stir fry.
Heat a little oil in a large frying pan and add the sliced prosciutto. Fry until opaque and crispy and then remove from the pan and keep to one side.
Melt the butter with a little oil in the same pan and add the mushrooms. Fry for 3-4 minutes before adding the leeks, garlic and chives. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring every so often, and adding a little more oil if needed. The leeks should have softened but still be nicely bright green.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add the pasta. Cook until al dente and before you drain the pasta, add a ladleful of the cooking water to the leeks. Drain the pasta, toss in olive oil and tip into the pan with the leeks. Add the prosciutto and grated parmesan and toss everything together well over the heat for a minute or so.
Serve scattered with a little more parmesan and some chopped parsley or chives.
A further extensive selection of seasonal, leek-based recipes can be downloaded from www.britishleeks.co.uk