Leeks ~ Super Vegetables
With a more delicate and sweeter flavor than onions, these cousins add a subtle touch to recipes without overpowering the other flavors that are present.
Although these super vegetables are available throughout the year they're "in season" from the fall through the early part of spring when they're at their best.
These subtle super veggies are related to onions, shallots and scallions to which they bear a resemblance.
They look like large scallions having a very small bulb and a long white cylindrical stalk of superimposed layers that flows into green, tightly wrapped, flat leaves.
Leeks, like garlic and onions, belong to a vegetable family called the Allium vegetables.
Since they're related to garlic and onions, they contain many of the same beneficial compounds found in these well-researched, health-promoting vegetables.
Lower LDL (Bad) Cholesterol While Raising HDL (Good) Cholesterol
A high intake of Allium vegetables has been shown to reduce total cholesterol and LDL, or "bad" cholesterol levels, while at the same time raising HDL, or "good" cholesterol levels.
This can be very important for preventing the development or progression of the blood vessel plaques that occur in atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease.
If these plaques grow too large or rupture, the result can be a heart attack or stroke.
Allium vegetables have also been shown to lower high blood pressure, another risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
Promote Optimal Health
Regular consumption of Allium vegetables, as little as two or more times a week, is associated with a reduced risk of prostate and colon cancer.
The research focused on colon cancer suggests that several of the compounds found in these foods are able to protect colon cells from cancer-causing toxins, while also stopping the growth and spread of any cancer cells that do happen to develop.
Although leeks contain many of the same compounds as those active in fresh garlic and onions, they contain them in smaller amounts.
Because of this, larger amounts of these super veggies would need to be eaten to obtain the same benefits provided by its Allium family cousins.
Fortunately, the mild, sweet taste of these sleek and slender veggies makes this easy to do.
Protective against Ovarian Cancer
Research calculating flavonoid intake in 66,940 women enrolled in the Nurses Health Study between 1984 and 2002 revealed that women whose diets provided the most kaempferol had a 40% reduction in risk of ovarian cancer, compared to women eating the least kaempferol-rich foods.
In addition, foods richest in kaempferol include tea (nonherbal), onions, curly kale, broccoli, spinach, and blueberries.
A significant 34% reduction in ovarian cancer risk was also seen in women with the highest intake of the flavone "luteolin" (found in citrus).
Stabilize Blood Sugar Levels
In addition to their unique properties as Allium family vegetables, leeks also emerged from our food ranking system as a very good source of manganese and a good source of vitamin-B6, vitamin-C, folate, and iron.
This particular combination of nutrients would make this super veggie particularly helpful in stabilizing blood sugar, since they not only slow the absorption of sugars from the intestinal tract, but help ensure that they're properly metabolized in the body.
Known scientifically as Allium porrum, they're related to garlic, onions, shallots and scallions as we've mentioned.
They look like large scallions, having a very small bulb and a long white cylindrical stalk of superimposed layers that flows into green, tightly wrapped, flat leaves.
Cultivated, they're usually about 12 inches in length, one to two inches in diameter, and feature a fragrant flavor that is reminiscent of shallots but sweeter and more subtle.
The wild varieties, known as "ramps," are much smaller in size, but have a stronger, more intense flavor.
These super vegetables enjoy a long and rich history, one that can trace its heritage back through antiquity.
Thought to be native to Central Asia, they've been cultivated in this region and in Europe for thousands of years.
They were prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans and were especially revered for their beneficial effect upon 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 them daily to make his voice stronger.
The Romans are thought to have introduced them to the United Kingdom, where they were able to flourish because they could withstand the cold weather.
Leeks have attained an esteemed status in Wales, where they serve as the country's national emblem.
The Welsh' regard for this super veggie can be traced back to a battle that they successfully won against the Saxons in 1620, during which the Welsh soldiers placed leeks in their caps to differentiate themselves from their opponents.
Today, they're an important vegetable in many northern European cuisines and are grown in many European countries.
How to Select and Store
They should be firm and straight with dark green leaves and white necks.
Good quality ones, won't be yellowed or wilted, nor have bulbs that have cracks or bruises.
Since overly large ones are generally more fibrous in texture, only purchase those that have a diameter of one and one-half inches or less.
Try to purchase leeks that are of similar size so as to ensure more consistent cooking if you're planning to cook them whole.
Leeks are available throughout the year, although they're in greater supply from the fall through the early part of spring.
Fresh leeks should be stored unwashed and untrimmed in the refrigerator, where they'll keep fresh for between one and two weeks.
Wrapping them loosely in a plastic bag will also help them to retain moisture.
Cooked, they're highly perishable, and even when kept in the refrigerator, will only stay fresh for about two days.
They can be frozen after being blanched for two to three minutes, although they will lose some of their desirable taste and texture qualities.
And they'll keep in the freezer for about three months.
Tips for Cooking:
Before preparing, clean them thoroughly to remove any soil that may have gotten caught within the overlapping layers of this super vegetable.
First, trim the rootlets and a portion of the green tops and remove the outer layer.
For all preparations except cutting into cross sections, make a lengthwise incision to the center-line, fold it open, and run under cool water.
If your recipe calls for cross sections, first cut it into the desired pieces, then place in a colander and run under cool water.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
Add them finely chopped to salads.
Make vichyssoise, a cold soup made from puréed cooked leeks and potatoes.
Add them to broth and stews for extra flavoring.
Braised and sprinkled with fennel or mustard seeds makes a great side dish for fish, poultry or steak.
Add them sliced to your favorite omelet or frittata recipe.
These super vegetables are among a small number of foods that contain measurable amounts of oxalates, naturally occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings.
When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems.
For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating these vegetables.
Lab studies have shown that oxalates may also interfere with absorption of calcium from the body.
Yet, in every research study we've seen, the ability of oxalates to lower calcium absorption is relatively small and definitely does not outweigh the ability of oxalate-containing foods to contribute calcium to the meal plan.
If your digestive tract is healthy, and you do a good job of chewing and relaxing while you enjoy your meals, you will get significant benefits, including absorption of calcium, from calcium-rich foods plant foods that also contain oxalic acid.
Ordinarily, a healthcare practitioner would not discourage a person focused on ensuring that they are meeting their calcium requirements from eating these nutrient-rich foods because of their oxalate content.
If you're thinking of what to have for dinner this evening, may we suggest;
Cream Pasta with Leeks, Spinach, and Smoked Turkey
3/4 lb. pasta like bowtie, fusilli, shells that can hold sauce
1 1/2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 c. nondairy creamer
4 c. packed baby spinach (4 oz.), coarsely chopped
1/2 c. lightly packed basil leaves, finely chopped
1/2 lb. smoked turkey, diced
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
parmesan cheese for topping, optional
Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water, according to package instructions, until al dente, then drain.
Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil.
Add the leek and turkey and cook over moderate heat until softened.
Add the creamer and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
Add the spinach and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes.
Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and toss until coated with the leek sauce.
Remove from heat, add the chopped basil and toss.
Season with salt and pepper, serve and sprinkle with parmesan, if desired.
Makes 4 servings.
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