A Maiden’s Dream
Leeks are allium vegetables and cousins to onions, garlic, shallots and scallions. Ancient Greeks and Romans dined upon these delicacies seasoned with honey, vinegar and cumin. Folklore claims that Emperor Nero (36-68 AD) ate leeks on a daily basis to improve his singing voice. In Wales, during the 1620’s, it is said that Saint David ordered his army troops to wear leeks on their helmets in order to differentiate them from the Saxon enemy. In fact, the leek is the national symbol of Wales, and historians continue the magical tale of Feast Day, March 1st, when it is believed that if a maiden sleeps with a leek under her pillow, she will see a vision of her future husband in her dreams.
Regardless of the lineage and mystery of the leek, it was brought to the United States by the French, whom then referred to leeks as poireau, meaning “simpleton,” and was considered a poor man’s asparagus! Much has changed in culinary circles and today the leek is found on the menu at some of the most prestigious restaurants in the world.
Milder Than Onions
Leeks are much sweeter and milder than their onion/garlic/scallion cousins, however, most people continue to use onions in recipes due to the simplicity of preparation. A cup of cooked leeks contains 29% RDA of vitamin K; in the United States we are given a shot of vitamin K at the hospital as infants. This dosage is considered ample for a lifetime in conjunction with healthy eating. In reality, the day-to-day, stress-filled, on-the-go lifestyles we lead do not readily provide us with quality dining time nor quality food choices, so it is important to supplement our dine-out/drive-thru menus with real food with real vitamins.
Vitamin K regulates clotting activities and transports calcium throughout the blood. In the case of a vitamin K deficiency, one would experience increased and severe bleeding–the inability to heal wounds.
Leeks also contain flavanoids and polyphenols, which assist in protecting both blood cells and vessels from oxidative damage. The primary flavanoid, kaempferol, is found in the lower leaf and bulb and is believed to protect the linings of blood vessels from damage. One cup of cooked leeks provides vitamins A, B6, C, E, and Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as manganese, copper, folate, and iron.
Thistle Flower Power
This recipe includes another amazing plant – the artichoke. Artichokes are edible perennials in the thistle group of sunflowers. The artichoke plant grows to be quite large and the spiked, globed-shaped vegetable we see at the market is actually the flowering part of the plant.
Artichokes are also abundant in vitamin K, as well as the family of B vitamins, which are necessary for cellular metabolic functions. Additional power punches of the artichoke are dietary fiber (assists in decreasing LDL cholesterol), copper, calcium, iron, and potassium, which assists in controlling heart rate and blood pressure. This recipe calls for canned or frozen artichokes, simply because it is the most cost and time efficient method.
LaGuardia Bans the Choke
The artichoke has a long history, however the most interesting tale is the racketeering story that occurred in New York City during the 1930’s. Story has it artichokes were selling for about five-cents a piece, but the Italian immigrants were willing to pay up to 50-cents for these prized homeland delicacies. So the underground mob began the racketeering of artichokes, charging up to six dollars a case. Irritated with the illicit business behaviors of his city’s most notorious citizens, New York City Mayor LaGuardia placed a public ban on the sale of artichokes. One week later, he retracted the ban because the Mayor was quite fond of an artichoke with garlic and butter.
Selection and Preparation
Leeks and artichokes are both winter plants; they can be found year-round at the market, but the best selection and price will be in the cooler months. When selecting a leek, look for a bright white, firm bulb with dark green stems. Leek bulbs can grow to be quite large, but it is best to select a bulb no larger than 1 ½ inches in diameter. Leeks are notoriously dirty and gritty on the inside, so a thorough washing is required. Prior to preparing, cut off the top part of the bulb head and the green leafy stems (these can be finely chopped and used in soups, or placed whole in a floral arrangement!) Slice the leek lengthwise, revealing a layers of flesh. Separate layers of flesh and wash thoroughly. When cutting the leeks, rearrange the flesh layers and slice in small thin strokes as you would fresh basil.
Artichokes should be green with no browning, have a tightly secured globe and heavy in weight. (Artichokes are often generally charged by the pound in off-season and by the unit when “in season”. For this reason, you’ll want to buy fresh artichokes “in-season”. The spikey leaves should be tight to one another, not flared or spread apart. If you are dining on an artichoke as an appetizer or side dish, you’d want to use a fresh artichoke from the produce section. However, in recipes that call for more than a cup of artichokes, it is advisable to seek out canned (packed in water), frozen, or vacuum-packed artichokes. Vacuum packed are often found in higher end specialty stores in the produce section; sometimes there are seasoned artichokes there as well.
Leek, Artichoke, and Carrot Soup (makes 8-12 cups)
4 large leeks, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 can artichoke bottoms (or hearts) chopped fine
3 large bay leaves
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
- In a dutch oven on medium heat, heat olive oil and butter; and add leeks.
- Stir until leeks are somewhat tender.
- Add broth, carrots, and bay leaves.
- Lightly season with salt and pepper and allow to cook for 30 on medium heat.
- Add artichoke hearts; allow to cook 15 more minutes.
- Remove bay leaves.
- Puree soup with immersion blender to desired consistency; add water/broth as needed.
- Check seasonings; add 1 teaspoon of dried thyme.
- Allow to simmer at least 10 minutes prior to serving.
- This recipe calls for carrots; however, they may be eliminated if you are choosing to make a more detoxifying leek soup.
- This version is pureed; however, another option is to remove and course grind artichokes and leeks once tender, puree the vegetables, and add back to the broth. This will offer a clear broth soup.
- If you prefer a more cream-based soup, add cream at the end of cooking.
- Canned artichoke bottoms work best; if you can’t find bottoms, get artichoke hearts, but keep in mind that the leaves get stringy upon cooking, so you’ll definitely want to puree these.
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