News about the Leek and recipes from around the World
History of the Leek
The leek, Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum (L.), also sometimes known as Allium porrum, is a vegetable which belongs, along with the onion and garlic, to family Amaryllidaceae, subfamily Allioideae. Two related vegetables, the elephant garlic and kurrat, are also variant subspecies of Allium ampeloprasum, although different in their uses as food.
The edible part of the leek plant is a bundle of leaf sheaths which is sometimes called a stem or stalk.
Rather than forming a tight bulb like the onion, the leek produces a long cylinder of bundled leaf sheaths which are generally blanched by pushing soil around them (trenching). They are often sold as small seedlings in flats which are started off early in greenhouses, to be planted out as weather permits. Once established in the garden, leeks are hardy; many varieties can be left in the ground during the winter to be harvested as needed.
Leek cultivars can be subdivided in several ways, but the most common types are “summer leeks”, intended for harvest in the season when planted, and overwintering leeks, meant to be harvested in the spring of the year following planting. Summer leek types are generally smaller than overwintering types; overwintering types are generally more strongly flavored. Varieties include King Richard and Tadorna Blue.
Leeks are easy to grow from seed and tolerate standing in the field for an extended harvest. Leeks usually reach maturity in the autumn months, and they have few pest or disease problems. Leeks can be bunched and harvested early when they are about the size of a finger or pencil, or they can be thinned and allowed to grow to a much larger mature size. Hilling leeks can produce better specimens.
The edible portions of the leek are the white onion base and light green stalk. The dark green portion is usually discarded since it has less flavor. As the leek grows, this part becomes woody and very chewy. One of the most popular uses for the whites and light green stalks is for adding flavor to stock. Chefs rarely use the darker part of the leek for stock because of its bitterness. However, a few leaves are sometimes tied with twine and other herbs to form a bouquet garni.
Leek has a mild onion-like taste, less bitter than scallion. The taste might be described as a mixture of mild onion and cucumber, with a fresh smell similar to scallion. In its raw state, the vegetable is crunchy and firm.
Leek is typically chopped into slices 5–10 mm thick. The slices have a tendency to fall apart, due to the layered structure of the leek. There are different ways of preparing the vegetable:
Boiled, which turns it soft and mild in taste. (Care should be taken to chop the vegetable, or else the intact fibers which run the length of the vegetable will tangle into a ball while chewing.)
Fried, which leaves it more crunchy and preserves the taste.
Raw, which can be used in salads, doing especially well when they are the prime ingredient.
Leeks are an ingredient of cock-a-leekie soup, leek and potato soup and vichyssoise, along with leek soup.
Because of their symbolism in Wales (see below), they have come to be used extensively in that country’s cuisine. Elsewhere in Britain, leeks have come back into favour only in the last fifty years or so, having been overlooked for several centuries.
The leek is one of the national emblems of Wales, worn along with the daffodil (in Welsh, the daffodil is known as “Peter’s Leek,” Cenhinen Bedr) on St. David’s Day. According to one legend, King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd ordered his soldiers to identify themselves by wearing the vegetable on their helmets in an ancient battle against the Saxons that took place in a leek field. This story may have been made up by the English poet Michael Drayton, but it is known that the leek has been a symbol of Wales for a long time;Shakespeare, for example, refers to the custom of wearing a leek as an “ancient tradition” in Henry V. In the play, Henry tells Fluellen that he is wearing a leek “for I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.” The 1985 and 1990 British one pound coins bear the design of a leek in a coronet, representing Wales.
Perhaps the most visible use of the leek, however, is as the cap badge of the Welsh Guards, a regiment within the Household Division of the British Army.
In Romania, the leek is also widely considered a symbol of Oltenia, a historical region in the south-western part of the country.
The Japanese singing synthesizer application Hatsune Miku is often depicted holding a leek.
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