Sunday, March 1, 2009


Leeks are a delicate and mild member of the onion family.Easier to digest than their onion cousins. They are also related to Garlic, Chives and Shallots.Leeks, unlike their counterparts, develop long, succulent stems rather than producing large bulbs. These stems are used as an onion substitute in many dishes. They're also easy to grow, tolerant of cold weather - and very expensive to buy in the supermarket. What more reason could you need to add a big patch of them to your kitchen garden? Often called the "gourmet's onion" Leeks add subtle flavor to soups and enhance the taste of many dishes.

Leeks can be grown from seeds or transplants. When growing leeks from seeds, it’s often easier to start them indoors even though they’re considered cold tolerant, as hard frosts can be detrimental to young plants. Sow the seeds in individual pots for easier transplanting about six to eight weeks before growing season or in early spring. Transplant seedlings once they reach about six inches tall.

Leeks like a place in full sun and thrive in rich, well-worked soil with good drainage. To grow large, white, succulent leeks, blanch the lower part of the stem by hilling the soil up around the stalk as it develops. Give leeks plenty of water to keep them growing strongly. Around midsummer, start removing the top half of the leaves. This will encourage greater growth of the leek stalk.

The time from planting to harvest is about 80 days from transplants and 120 days from seed. Pull the leeks as you need them, but harvest them all before frost.

There are several varieties of leeks available to home vegetable gardeners. Listed below are the different varieties of leeks.
Broad London, harvest at 30 days from seed, produces thick mild-flavored stems.
harvest at 100 days, is earlier and larger than Broad London and has a broader base.
American Flag, harvest at 95 days, is easy and flavorful.

According to Welsh tradition, back in the days before military uniforms, the Welsh fighters were instructed by their king to distinguish themselves from the enemy by fixing a leek to their helmets. Whether because of this legend, or for older reasons, the leek is one of Wales' national symbols, and is worn on the lapel in honor of St. David, Patron Saint of Wales, on his Day.

The very famous soup, Vichyssoise is made with leeks and potatoes. Traditionally, vichyssoise is served cold, and it may be garnished with snipped chives or parsley. This classic French-style soup is very easy to make at home, and many people find it enjoyable hot as well as cold, although vichyssoise purists may frown on serving the soup warm. It is also available in many some restaurants and cafes, especially those with French pretensions.

If you're interested in making a batch of vichyssoise for yourself, start by frying some sliced leeks and onions in oil and a small amount of butter. Add loosely chopped potatoes and chicken or vegetable stock. Boil until the ingredients are soft before adding cream or a non-dairy alternative for vegans, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Puree your vichyssoise before serving, and garnish as desired.