Valley Bounty: Leeks

A member of the genus Allium, leeks are closely related to onions and garlic—but unlike those cousins, the commonly eaten part of the leek is not the bulb (nor is it, as I always thought, the stem), but is actually a tightly bound cluster of leaves. Leeks are often grown using a process called “blanching” (not to be confused with the cooking technique), in which dirt is piled higher and higher around the edible part of the leek as it grows—blocking out sunlight this way prevents the plant from producing chlorophyll in those parts, which results in a pale color and a milder flavor.

Because of this, leeks often have a bit of dirt caught between their leaves when they finally make it to your kitchen, so I usually cut them up and wash them briefly in cool water before cooking. Besides adding them to soups and stocks, leeks take really well to caramelization—simply sauté them over low heat in a bit of oil or butter until thoroughly brown and soft. Caramelized leeks have a milder flavor than caramelized onions and go great on pizzas, burgers, meat, fish, pasta, and just about any other savory dish.

Valley Bounty is written by Brian Snell of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)