Newest Review: ... the last 20 minutes or so, but remember you will get blasted by red hot steam when doing this so be careful. NUTRITIONAL VALUE Leeks ... more
Member Name: Stewwydablue
Advantages: Very tasty
Disadvantages: Take about nine months to grow your own
At around this time of year, the seasons dictate that the strawberries have all been picked, fruit trees are almost ready to give us their gifts and tomatoes struggle to ripen in the weak British sun, or lack of. If you try to eat seasonally by growing your own, leeks are a plant that can be planted around now for harvesting in early autumn and left in the soil until next spring (when they will flower and go to seed) - they will survive most winters if left alone. Not everyone grows their own leeks, so I will also be writing about how to use them and nutritional value etc for those that buy them all year round from supermarkets.
There's two main ways of doing this, you can either plant the seeds yourself or buy pots of baby leek plants from garden centres which then get separated and planted out individually. To plant from seed, it's better to plant in April to ensure that they are a decent size before the frosts come which will make them dormant until the next spring - although I am planting mine even now in late August. Plant the seeds about a centimetre deep, 15 cm apart and with double that between rows. Keep the area weed free and add compost to the soil every couple of weeks as they like rich soil. When you add the compost to the soil around the leeks, you can pile it around the leeks' stems - this will blanche the stem and make it turn white which tastes sweeter. They should be ready from about September onwards. When harvesting leeks, always dig them out as if you pull them by hand you could snap the leek.
Alternatively, if you've bought a pot of baby leeks that are already growing in potting compost, then very carefully separate them and using a pencil or stick as a dibber, make a hole a few centimetres deep in your soil and push them roots and all into this hole. Use the above spacings for distance between each leek. To separate the leeks before planting out, I dump the pot in a bucket of water to get the compost sodden, then after half an hour I remove the pot, then whilst holding onto the leeks (carefully) I gently swish the ends of the leeks in the water until all the compost has washed off. I find that doing it this way is less damaging to the roots than trying to pry them apart with my sausage fingers.
PESTS AND DISEASES COMMON TO LEEKS
There is nationwide problem with leek moths (or more accurately the larvae of leek moths) that has been ruining peoples' leeks. The best form of prevention is by growing the leeks under a barrier such a fleece or netting so that the moths can't get access to the leeks on which they lay their eggs. If you have had leek moth damage, don't put any part of the affected leeks onto your compost pile as you run the risk of spreading the pupae (the little maggot like hard cased chrysalis thingymajob - biology isn't my strong point sorry) and the problem will just repeat itself. The larvae of these moths have been chomping their way through peoples leeks for the last few years now and the problem is spreading up north - it was initially confined to Southern England.
Another common problem with leeks is rust. As its name suggests, rust shows itself by orange coloured blotches on the foliage and if left will eventually kill the plant. It is a fungal disease and is encouraged to grow in warm damp conditions - so prevent it by having well draining soil and don't crowd your leeks too close together so that damp can remain in the shade caused by closely packed leeks. If you spot rust on your leeks, pull them up and burn, don't compost as this will spread the problem. Some gardeners treat for rust pre-emptively by spraying their crop with an anti fungicide such as copper sulphate, but that's a personal choice and dependant on whether or not you are trying to be a chemical free gardener.
Common varieties in the UK to grow from seed include "Blue de Solaise" (has a blue-grey sheen to the leaves and some people grow this as an ornamental as not only can you eat them, they look fantastic), "Musselburgh" (most people that grow leeks will have had this type - very common) and Pandora (a classic white leek with long stems).
Here's a recipe for a leek and potato soup - the proportions aren't set in stone so feel free to use more or less of an ingredient depending on your taste. Also, we often use milk instead of cream.
5 or 6 leeks, washed and chopped
3 or 4 big potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
Clove of garlic
1 litre of either veg or chicken stock, or can just use water
Small pot of cream
Add the chopped leeks, onion and garlic into a pan of melted butter and sweat them until they start to soften, then add the stock / water and potatoes. Cook until the spuds go soft, then take off the heat and stir in the cream. Dead easy, very tasty, and we find that it freezes better if you use milk instead of cream. Also, it can be liquidised if you prefer soup in that fashion. Try adding some chopped bacon or shreds of ham, it goes very well with this.
Another good way of using leeks is roast them in an oven dish and cover with cheese sauce as a side to a Sunday lunch - leeks and cheese go very well together.
Here's a recipe I used last week - leek and chorizo pie. (Although as a northerner who lives a few short M6 junctions away from Wigan, the home of the pie, I object to calling this a pie as WHERE'S MY PASTRY?).
5 or 6 large peeled potatoes, thinly sliced
3 or 4 chopped leeks
A sliced chorizo sausage
Two finely chopped garlic cloves
A pint of single cream (although we used the cream and didn't like it, might use cheese sauce next time instead)
Grated cheese - you can be posh and use parmesan but I suppose any grated cheese work
In the bottom of a greased casserole dish, throw a handful of chopped leeks and chorizo, scatter a pinch of the garlic then cover with a layer of the sliced potatoes. Repeat this until you have a top layer of spuds and no more ingredients, then add the grated cheese to this top layer of potatoes. Pour in the cream, cover with a lid (or foil if your casserole dish doesn't have one) then put in the oven at 180 for an hour and a half. You can take the lid off for the last 20 minutes or so, but remember you will get blasted by red hot steam when doing this so be careful.
Leeks are high in fibre, low in fat so are useful for weight watching. They also contain vitamins A, C, E and K - and have folic acid and various anti-oxidants. Not to mention the fact they also contain minerals such as potassium, iron and calcium, magnesium and zinc! Makes me wonder if leeks should be prescribed on the NHS! All in all, they are packed with goodness.
Seeds are easy to get hold of in the usual places (garden centres, supermarkets, shops like Wilkinsons etc) and even my local end of the street Spar shop always has washed trimmed leeks for sale in the veg fridge.
If you've got the space, try growing some. They are one of the tastiest vegetables around and are also jam packed full with goodness. Very useful in cooking too, with a mild onion taste which means they go well with lots of different foods. Five stars from me.
Summary: Very tasty, versatile vegetable