Peter Russell-Clarke Knows Leeks!

We have many and varied attitudes to Budget leaks, WikiLeaks, roof leaks and other forms of porous things which let escape items which may or may not be beneficial to the human race.

Well, folks, edible leeks are extremely beneficial to each and every one of us. And the best of leeks are available at your own Queen Victoria Market.

Leek – a subtle, unique flavour, sweeter than an onion.

But, before I note all things interesting about the fascinating history of leeks, let me list the goodies the leek contains: potassium, vitamins C and K, betacarotene and folic acid (they are used to treat gout and kidney stones as they help eliminate uric acid as well as being a diuretic). Leeks have no cholesterol, no fat, no sodium, but do have iron and dietary fibre.

Leek Cartoon 1

The name ‘leek’ is a corruption of ‘loch’ – a word the Romans used to describe any medicine that could be licked to cure a sore throat. There is a school which states the Roman name for ‘leek‘ was ‘porrum‘ which has been retained in the scientific name. And another which claims ‘leek’ came from an Anglo-Saxon word ‘leac’. Anyway as it’s a diuretic, I’ll leave you to cogitate further. (Nero, the would-be thespian, was a leek licker.) The leek is said to have originated in the eastern Mediterranean where it grew wild. The Egyptians, at the time of the Pharaohs, gobbled them down and, as they are a member of the lily family (the leeks not the Pharaohs) also the onion, which the Egyptians revered as the symbol of eternity – the onion ring having no start or ending.

As we know, the Romans had an affair with Egypt (Cleopatra in particular) and are attributed with taking the onion and leek to Britain. When the Welsh (the original Brits) went into battle with the Saxons, somewhere around 640 AD, the King (Cadwallador) and his soldiers wore a leek to distinguish themselves from the Saxons. It’s not recorded where they wore the leek, but I suggest in their head gear. Anyway, the leek became the national emblem of the Welsh ever since.

By the way, the Welsh won the battle. The leek is still worn proudly on St David’s Day and you can be assured eaten as well.

Leek Cartoon 2

But enough of what others did with the leek. Here’s what you can do with it.

Before I detail one of the most famous soups in the culinary world – Vichyssoise – let me give you a simple idea.

Once you’ve got your leek home, run water through its top leaves to get out any sand, then cut off the dark green leaves right to where the white starts. Boil these tough leaves in your soup or stock pot then mulch them into the garden. Boil or steam the white column until it’s soft (or microwave it). Cut a diagonal slash down its length (cutting no more than a quarter to half way down the leek). Pack the cut with grated sharp cheese and anchovies. The cheese will semi melt because of the heat of the leek. Cut each column in half to serve on a scatter of fresh spinach leaves and serve as a small entree. Easy, eh?

Now let me leak another detail, as it’s Spring when our fancies turn to love, I became besotted with all the fresh young produce at the Queen Vic Market. and so let me tell you fresh young baby leeks are tender enough to eat whole, they’re sweet and, cooked, can be served as an appetiser with vinaigrette. Ah! Love at first bite.

VICHYSSOISE SOUP
It must be absolutely chilled and, to procure the real flavour, it must be prepared with leeks, and they must be very white ones.

Ingredients:

  • 4 good sized leeks
  • 1 medium sized onion
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 6 medium potatoes
  • 1.2 litres chicken stock
  • salt
  • white pepper
  • 600 ml milk
  • 600 ml pure cream
  • 300 ml double cream

Method:

Wash the leeks and slice the white parts finely (reserve the green parts for flavouring in other soups). Peel and chop the onion. Heat the butter, add the leeks and onion and cook gently till soft but keeping them white. Add the chicken stock and chopped potatoes and cook till tender. Add salt and pepper to taste and rub through a sieve, or puree in a blender and then rub through a sieve. Return the soup to the pan, add the milk, stir this well into the soup then add the pure cream still stirring. Heat till almost boiling. Add more salt and pepper if required, take from the heat and cool. When cool, add double cream and chill thoroughly. Serve with chopped chives. Serves 4-5.