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Food Challenge: Leeks!

Posted Apr 03 2010 9:22pm

Photo by LollyKnit

Leeks: the giant version of scallions (which I was never too fond of as a child). And only until recently did I started to discover the ability of scallions to liven up a dish, but still I only add in the least amount necessary. So, leeks –bearing very strong physical resemblance to scallions — have always been ranked very high on the avoid-at-all-cost food list in the past. But since I have started the mission to try something new every week, I suppose I’ll like to write off leeks from the old list and move it over to my eat-often list.

Leeks are usually quite pricy at my local supermarket, but on the day that I went grocery shopping, they were on sale…which is clearly another sign that says I need to try them out this week! I picked out three fat leeks, the ones with the most white parts (since the good stuff are the white and light green parts) and headed home anxious yet somewhat excited to make something good out of these giant scallion look-alikes.

After I got home, I stood in the kitchen with these giant, bulky leeks, clueless at to prepare them or cook them. So I fired up the omnipotent Google search and found a very easy-to-follow tutorial on David Lebovitz’s website. Then, with leeks all rinsed, drained and ready to go, I decided to look through my handy, dandy How To Cook Everything Cookbook by Mark Bittman for recipes. I chose to make a minimalistic braised leek dish and the classic potato and leek soup.

Braised Leeks with Dijon Mustard

Slow braising in olive oil and a little bit of stock for 20 minutes with just a touch of Dijon mustard turned the creamy white and lively green colours of leeks into an unattractive, dull mustardy yellowish-green colour. At that point, it really made me question if leeks would taste anything near decent at all. However, after I took my first bite, I happily savoured the rest of the dish. The leeks were cooked very tender, giving an almost melt-in-the-mouth sensation. They were very silky, with a mellow sweetness, and no trace of the pungent flavour that I find quite overwhelming strong in scallions. So, although these leeks look a lot like blown-up versions of scallions, they were much sweeter in taste and overall, much more enjoyable.

Potato and Leek Soup

Already knowing that potato and leek soup has always been a classic comfort food dish, plus with the with great success in making the braised leek under my belt, I had no doubt that the soup would turn out yummy. However, I didn’t know it would turn out THAT good! The combination of potatoes and leeks were a match made in heaven. With a 1:1 ratio of leeks to potatoes, the pureed soup had a delicious, distinctive starchy potatoey flavour, enhanced by a delicious sweetness from the leeks. The soup was light yet creamy, mild flavoured yet addictively delicious. For the sake of getting a taste of the leeks’ true flavour, I didn’t add any cream, but I can imagine that with just touch of heavy cream or a dollop of sour cream (or even Greek yogurt) at the very end will seriously take this soup to the next level.

I wished I had more time to experiment with leeks; I especially wanted to try making some Leek “Linguine” (recipe by Cara from Cara’s Cravings ). But unfortunately, I got lost in my piles of school work (and I also ran out of leeks too :( ). But once the leeks go on sale again, you bet I’ll be buying more and doing something fancy with them!

The Verdict: Leeks turned out to be nothing like how I imagined them! They are silky when cooked, and have a very delicate sweetness that makes them very lovable. Honestly I feel like I’ve missed out on enjoying this vegetable for all these years, especially since it is so tasty and so good for you!

What’s so great about them: Leeks contain the same health-promoting benefits as onions and garlic because they all belong to the same vegetable family, the Allium family. Consuming these vegetables can help to reduce LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and help raise HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol). In addition, they offer protection against some types of cancers, namely prostate, colon and ovarian cancer. The unique combination of nutrients in leeks have also been shown to be effective in stabilizing blood sugar by slowing the sugars’ absorption from the intestines and ensuring that they get properly metabolized in the body. (Resource: World’s Healthiest Foods )

Final words: This Food Challenge has taught me one big lesson: don’t judge a food by its looks or colour — just because it doesn’t have an appealing appearance, it doesn’t mean it tastes bad (such as parsnips and canned sardines – both have surprisingly good flavours!).

So here’s a question for you: have you ever missed out on trying a new food simply because it looks unappealing? In the end, did you overcome that doubt or did you let that get in the way and stop you from trying?

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