As with so many vegetables of ancient lineage, there are several legends connected with the leek, whose flavor is halfway between garlic and onion but with none of the latter's bite.
Leeks have had a peripatetic history but achieved their true glorification in Wales, where they are worn proudly in the hats of all Welshmen every St. David's Day, March 1.
It was on his advice that the Welsh troops wore leeks in their helmets to distinguish them from the enemy, the Saxons, whom they defeated in the Battle of Heathfield in the 7th century.
When purchasing, look for bright, green leaves and white stems that are firm and not woody or stringy. Leeks require very careful washing, as they grow deep in sandy soil.
If they are to be used whole, split the leaves down to the white portion and wash under running cold water until all sand or dirt is gone.
The best cooking method is braising. Simmer the cleaned leeks in a combination of butter or oil and water, milk or meat stock until the liquid evaporates and the vegetables are tender, yet still hold their shape.
This takes about 20 minutes in a covered skillet. Cook them without browning to prevent toughness and a bitter flavor.
Leeks are most often thought of in connection with soups such as vichyssoise or cock-a-leekie or as a pot vegetable to flavor broth, but they are delicious dressed with melted butter, hollandaise, or a rich cream sauce with dill or parsley, or served cold a la Grecque or under a vinaigrette sauce.
Puree them to serve with roast meats and poultry dishes. Slice them and simmer in butter, then fold into quiche fillings and omelets. Welsh Leek Soup
5 large boiling potatoes 10 cups water 1 teaspoon salt 5 medium-size leeks 1 small onion 4 tablespoons butter or margarine 2 tablespoons flour 3/4 cup half-and-half or evaporated milk 1/8 teaspoon pepper 2 egg yolks Optional garnishes (bacon bits, minced pars ley, grated cheeese)
Peel and cut up potatoes. Boil in salted water for about 10 minutes. Slice, wash thoroughly, and chop fine only the white portion of the leeks, along with the onion.
Saute leeks and onion slowly in hot butter or margarine until light golden brown. Sprinkle with flour and stir until flour is absorbed. Add enough of the potato cooking water to make a thin sauce, then turn sauce back into potatoes, stirring until well blended. Continue cooking until potatoes are soft enough to be pureed in a blender or food processor.
Return to soup pot and simmer about 5 minutes. Stir in cream or evaporated milk. Season and heat to boiling point. Beat egg yolks until frothy and spoon a little into each soup bowl. Ladle in hot soup and stir to blend in yolk. Sprinkle with garnish of your choice. Serve hot. Makes 10 to 12 cups.
Leeks are often braised by Welsh cooks or served in a sauce made of Caerphilly cheese, developed long ago by dairymen of south Wales. Braised Leeks 3 bunches leeks 1 medium-size Bermuda onion 2 tablespoons butter or margarine 2 cups beef bouillon 2 whole cloves 1 bay leaf 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon pepper Cut off tops within 11/2 inches of white part. Saute onion in butter or margarine until lightly browned. Add leeks, stock, and seasonings. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes, or until leeks are tender and stock has almost evaporated. Serve at once on hot platter. Serves 4. Leeks au Gratin
2 bunches leeks Boiling water 1 teapoon salt Pepper to taste 1/2 cup grated cheese
Wash and trim leeks. Cook about 15 minutes in boiling salted water to cover. Drain. Arrange in buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with pepper and grated cheese. Heat under broiler until cheese is melted. Serves 6 to 8. Leeks and Celery with Egg-Lemon Sauce 1 bunch leeks 1 bunch celery 2 cups chicken stock or broth 1/2 cup butter or margarine 11/2 tablespoons lemon juice 3 egg yolks
Clean leeks and celery. If leeks are large, cut in halves. Remove coarse outer stalks of celery and quarter or eighth the center. Cook in broth until tender. Drain and remove to serving dish. Keep warm while sauce is being prepared.
To make sauce, reduce remaining broth to about 3/4 of a cup. Melt butter or margarine and add warmed lemon juice. Drop egg yolks in another, warm pan, and stir in slowly 4 tablespoons of hot broth. Blend butter and lemon juice with it, and then remaining broth. Pour over leeks and celery on platter and serve. Serves 4. Leek Souffle
12 to 14 leeks white part only, sliced thin 3 tablespoons butter or margarine 1 tablespoon flour 3/4 cup beef consomme Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
% eggs, separated
Melt butter or margarine in a saucepan and add leeks. Simmer gently until golden but not brown. Stir in flour and cook for 1 or 2 minutes. Pour in consomme amd stir until thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cool sauce a little, then gradually stir into the slightly beaten egg yolks.
Fold in egg whites, stiffly beaten, but not dry. Pour souffle into buttered souffle dish and bake in preheated 400-degree F. oven for 25 to 35 minutes. Serve at once. Serves 4.