If you happen to see someone sporting a leek pinned to his clothing on March 1, you might conclude that he’s a Welsh expat celebrating St. David’s Day. St. David was the patron saint of Wales, and the leek is a symbol of that country.
How does a country choose the leek as its national symbol? The story goes that the Britons, acting on the advice of St. David, wore leeks on their helmets to clearly distinguish themselves from their enemies, and as a result, they prevailed in battle against the Saxons.
I have read that patriotic modern-day Welsh people sometimes wear a leek on St. David’s Day. I regret that I’ve never seen it happen!
There are other uses for leeks besides the military and patriotic. Tied in bundles of three or four and looking like fat green onions, leeks intended for culinary use show up at produce counters in grocery stores and farmers’ markets. I would speculate, though, that they are underappreciated in this part of the world. That’s unfortunate, as leeks can add a subtle onion-like taste to mixed dishes, without overpowering other flavours.
My first encounter with leeks came via a roommate, whose mother pulled, and then pickled, wild leeks that grew near their home near Georgian Bay. In fact, she made two kinds of pickled leeks, one with a clear vinegar syrup and the other with a mustard sauce. “Smelly,” I thought.
Then I tasted them and had to admit that they were, indeed, good.
That’s the only time I have run into either wild leeks or pickled leeks, but I have enjoyed garden- and farm-grown leeks since that time.
The flavours of leeks and potatoes complement one another in soup. There are many versions, such as the rich French vichysoisse, which is served cold. Here is a lighter version that I have often used. It’s good served hot or cold.
To prepare the leeks for use, trim the dark green portion of the tops and discard or save for making stock.
Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, and rinse well to wash out any soil that is trapped among the layers. Then cut the leek as appropriate for the recipe.
For this one, I cut the leek into pieces about 2.5 cm (1 inch) long.
Leek and Potato Soup
Adapted from Young, Donna and Marg Routledge: New Maritimes Seasonal Cooking. Nimbus Publishing Ltd.,
5 mL (1 tsp) olive oil
1 large leek, white and light green parts, sliced
50 mL (1/4 cup) diced celery
375 mL (1 1/2 cups) chicken broth
375 mL (1 1/2 cups) sliced potatoes
1 mL (1/4 tsp) salt (omit if broth is salted)
0.5 mL (1/8 tsp) freshly ground pepper
75 mL (1/3 cup) homogenized milk
snipped chives for garnish, optional
Heat oil over medium-high heat in a heavy saucepan. Add leek and celery. Reduce heat and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes or until softened.
Add chicken broth, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and then cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add potatoes, and continue cooking until potatoes are very soft, about 10 minutes.
Pulse in a blender or food processor until mixture is a coarse, rather than a smooth purée (or make it smooth, if you prefer). Add salt, if using, and pepper. Add milk, using more or less to adjust thickness. (I sometimes use low fat evaporated milk to make it seem richer.) Warm to desired temperature, and garnish with chives, if using.
Soup may be chilled and served cold if preferred.
Makes 4 servings.
Here is a tasty casserole recipe, altered slightly from the original shared by Summerside home economist and registered dietitian Katherine Schaefer at a workshop we presented a number of years ago.
Leek and Ham Casserole
Using white and light green parts only, cut leeks in half lengthwise and wash well under running cold water. Cut into narrow strips about 2.5 cm (1 inch) long.
Steam or boil until tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
Drain well and place in a greased 2 L (8 cup) baking dish.
50 mL (1/4 cup) butter or non-hydrogenated margarine
75 mL (1/3 cup) all purpose flour
625 mL (2 1/2 cups) 1 per cent milk
2 mL (1/2 tsp) Dijon mustard
1 mL (1/4 tsp) black pepper
0.5 mL (1/8 tsp) cayenne
500 mL (2 cups) Swiss cheese, grated
125 g (1/4 lb) cooked ham, diced
In a heavy saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour, and then whisk in milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens, and continue to cook for a few more minutes.
Reduce heat to low. Stir in mustard, black pepper, cayenne and grated cheese. Continue stirring until cheese is melted, and remove from the heat.
Stir in diced ham. Taste, and adjust seasonings if necessary. Pour sauce over leeks, and sprinkle with crumb topping.
250 mL (1 cup) soft whole wheat bread crumbs
25 mL (2 tbsp) olive oil
In a small bowl, drizzle olive oil over crumbs and stir to combine. Sprinkle over casserole.
Bake at 180 C (350 F) for 30 minutes, or until heated through.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.