Leeks are members of the onion family. Both the classical Romans and Greeks were very fond of leeks, in particular the Roman Emperor Nero who earned the nickname Porrophagus, or “leek eater,” after he took to eating them in large quantities in order to improve his singing voice. The Greeks and Romans praised leeks, while deeming garlic and onions fit only for the less fortunate. The ancient Roman cookbook Apicius includes 4 individual recipes for leeks, while only calling for garlic and onions in small quantities as flavorings. Today onion and garlic are a building block in most savory recipes, whereas leeks are not nearly as common. Times have certainly changed!
Some historians believe that the Romans introduced leeks to Britain and eventually Wales. An old tale claims that the Welsh, who made leeks their “national emblem,” tucked raw leeks into their hats during the 7th century Battle of Heathfield so that the soldiers could easily distinguish between their allies and enemies. Did the Welsh triumph over the Saxons due to their own strength, or because the powerful odor of raw leeks helped them to know friend from foe? We may never know.
What we do know is how to prepare leeks for use in recipes! The challenge with leeks is the dirt and debris that gets caught inside their many layers and leaves. There is a simple solution to getting all of that dirt out and slicing your leeks for cooking. All you need is a sharp knife, a bowl of water, and a colander. Here’s how!
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- Thoroughly rinse your leeks and pat dry with a paper towel.
- With a sharp knife, remove the dark green leaf end and discard or save for soup or stew stock.
- Thinly slice the leek into rings and discard the root end.
- Submerge the sliced leeks in a bowl of cold water. Give them a gentle stir or shake to remove any soil or grit between the layers.
- Allow the leeks to sit in the water for a few minutes. Then scoop them into a colander using your hands or a slotted spoon. This ensures that you aren’t dumping the rinse water back onto the leeks.
- Now you have clean, sliced leeks that are ready to be used.
- Alternatively, if you prefer, you can slice your leeks into thin strips by first removing the dark green leaf ends and the root ends. Discard or reserve these for soup or stew stocks.
- Then, slice each leek in half from top to bottom.
- Slice the halves into thin strips. Then rinse in a bowl of water the same way you would with the rings, scooping them into a colander to drain.
- There you have it! Clean, sliced leeks that can be used in a variety of recipes.
Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.
Rupp, Rebecca. How Carrots Won the Trojan War: Curious (but True) Stories of Common Vegetables. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub., 2011. Print.