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Spring a leek and get rid of toxins

Once dubbed ‘poor-man’s asparagus’, the leek needs only some slow braising or gentle grilling to bring out its sweet yet complex flavour that is also a great detoxifier.

Rachel Zammit Cutajar
21 March 2012, 12:00am
High in potassium, folic acid and vitamin C, leeks help in the removal of uric acid from the body making it an ideal detox food
Leeks work well as an add-in to soups, pies and omelettes, but also stand up very well on their own in a variety of side dishes.

The leek is the part of the onion family, scientifically known as 'Alliums porrum'. However its flavours are much more subtle and sweeter, making it an ideal accompaniment for seafood dishes. Try a leek stuffed salmon fillet with fresh dill, which is as tasty warm as it is cold.

Wild leeks -known as 'ramps' - are much smaller in size, but have a stronger, more intense flavour. They are available for a short period of time each year and are often widely sought out at farmers' markets when they are in season.

Leeks can be traced right back to antiquity, and are thought to be native to Central Asia.

Leeks were prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans and were especially revered for their beneficial effect on the throat. The Greek philosopher Aristotle credited the clear voice of the partridge to a diet of leeks, while the Roman emperor Nero supposedly ate leeks every day to make his voice stronger.

Today, leeks are an important vegetable in many northern European cuisines and are grown in many European countries. They are available throughout the year, though in season between autumn and early spring when they are at their best.

Detoxification

Leeks are used for detoxification because they contain potassium, folic acid, and vitamin C. They also help reduce cholesterol levels and can help rid the body of uric acid, which the body creates after ingesting certain foods. Too much uric acid in the body can cause health complications such as gout and kidney stones.

Leek broth can be made with or without additional ingredients. Some basic recipes involve only the greens and bulbs of leeks with water, while other recipes include other ingredients found to have additional health benefits. Such ingredients may include onions, ginger, lemon or herbs.

The ingredients generally add minimal calories to the broth and are sometimes tailored to meet the specific health needs of the user.

Once the broth is made, those detoxing often use it for two to three days. During the detoxification process, it is the only thing ingested so that users can avoid adding additional contaminants to the body. Broth can be ingested warm as a vegetable 'tea' or cold.

Selection, storage and preparation

Leeks should be firm and straight with dark green leaves and white necks. Look for smaller leeks as the larger the leek the more fibrous they tend to be in texture. Try to purchase leeks that are of similar size so as to ensure more consistent cooking if you are planning on cooking the leeks whole.

Fresh leeks should be stored unwashed and untrimmed in the refrigerator, where they will keep fresh for between one and two weeks. Wrapping them loosely in a plastic bag will help them to retain moisture. Cooked leeks are highly perishable, and even when kept in the refrigerator, will only stay fresh for about two days.

Cut off green tops of leeks and remove outer tough leaves. Cut off root and cut leeks in half lengthwise. Fan out the leeks and rinse well under running water, to remove grit from between the layers but leaving them intact. Cut leeks into 2-inch lengths. Holding the leek sections cut side up, cut lengthwise so that you end up with thin strips, known as the chiffonade cut, slicing until you reach the green portion. Make sure slices are cut very thin to shorten cooking time. Let leeks sit for at least 5 minutes before cooking.

Serving ideas
  • Healthy sauté leeks and fennel. Garnish with fresh lemon juice and thyme.
  • Add finely chopped leeks to salads.
  • Make vichyssoise, a cold soup made from puréed cooked leeks and potatoes.
  • Add leeks to broth and stews for extra flavouring.
  • Braised leeks sprinkled with fennel or mustard seeds make a wonderful side dish for fish, poultry or steak.
  • Add sliced leeks to your favourite omelette or frittata recipe.


 

 

 

Rachel Zammit Cutajar graduated in economics from the University of Malta...