The leek is from the Middle East, from a variety of garlic called Allium ampeloprasum, commonly known as the "wild leek" and abundant throughout the Mediterranean region.
Like its cousin the onion, it has a developed bulb. Much later, selective breeding created the leek we know today, which has a very small bulb, and a larger white section.
It was widely cultivated in Egypt and featured in many funerary frescoes: it was one of the products that had to be offered to the gods of the Amenti, the realm of the underworld. They were also known to the Hebrews: the Bible suggests that they took leeks with them during their exodus in Sinai.
The Romans had two types of leeks: the porrum capitatum and the porrum sectivum. The rich ate only the bulb of the first type. The second was reserved for poorer Roman citizens, i.e. the workers. Nevertheless, Martial advised people who had eaten leeks to close their lips when kissing. Nero ate leeks believing they would improve the clarity of his voice.
The leek became the emblem of Wales following a battle in the 6th century against the Saxons in which the Welsh wore leeks in their hats to distinguish themselves from their opponents.
In France, in the Middle Ages, the leek was highly esteemed. The best-known soup at the time was called porée, and was made using the green leaves finely chopped. Jean Goeurot, doctor to Francis I of France, recommended eating leeks to "seducers of ladies to give them pleasant breath"! But at the time, leeks were mainly prescribed as a diuretic, to relax the stomach, combat flatulence, fight "uterine suffocation", increase the milk production of wet nurses, and combat infertility.
It arrived in North America with settlers, who cultivated it from the late 18th century, but, as in Asia, it was never really widely consumed there.
Choose leeks that are very fresh, straight, and firm. The white part should be bright, unblemished, and with healthy-looking leaves, not yellowed or dry.
In addition to fresh, leeks are also sold frozen after being cleaned and possibly blanched: whole, white part, cut, sliced, or chopped. The addition of salt, spices, and herbs is authorized.
Before use, leeks must be thoroughly washed and peeled. The root is cut off and the top layer removed. Having been split lengthwise, they should be washed with plenty of water to remove all traces of soil.
They are then cooked, whole for very small leeks, or cut (into pieces or slices, julienned, diced, etc.), steamed, poached in boiling water, or meat or fish stock, preferably without the lid to remove the sulfur compounds.
Leeks can be used to make soup, gratins, or pies: a flamiche is a leek tart from northern France.
They can be made into leeks à la vinaigrette and served with meat, chicken, or fish. They can also be used as an aromatic addition.
The young poireaux baguette leeks can be eaten raw.
Small, early poireaux baguette leeks will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator.
Normal leeks can be kept for 1 month.
They can also be frozen after being cleaned and sliced.
Leeks are very rich in fiber, minerals, antioxidant carotenes, B vitamins, and especially folic acid.
They also contain lots of vitamin C, but this is mostly found in the green part.
The leek is in the group of vegetables that protect against certain cancers because of its high fiber and antioxidant content, and also thanks to its sulfur compounds.
Leeks are sold all year round. Different varieties are available depending on the season.
Poireaux baguettes, very fleshy center and quite a strong flavor.
Monstrueux d'Elbeuf, de Carentan, Electra, Jaune Gros du Poitou, Acadia, Gros court d'été, Gros long d'été, Malabar, and Géant précoce, etc.
Fall and winter
Bleu de Siolaize, Bleu d'hiver, Saint Victor, Long de Mézières, Liege, Gennevilliers, Monstrueux de Carentan, Malabar du sud-ouest, and Géant d'hiver, etc.
Leeks from Créances are very delicate, with a pleasant, nutty flavor (like carrots from the same place) and are protected by a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication). They are harvested in winter.