The heirloom King Richard Leek
Planting time has come upon us once again and the first seeds tucked into the soil are those slow and steady members of the Allioideae family. At Foundroot we only sell one Allium that needs to be started indoors: The Mighty Leek.
Buying SeedThe only part of the leek that is fragile are its small black seeds which have one of the shortest lifespans. Leek seeds don’t store more than 1-2 years before decreasing in germination. It’s best to purchase new seed every year and only buy enough for that season. If you do have extra, store them in an airtight jar in the fridge or freezer and add a silica packet if you have one handy. If you have old seed, by all means, plant them. Who knows what could happen?
Growing Leeks Like many of its relatives, the leek has a very slow germination process and they must be started indoors at least 8-12 weeks before last frost. In Alaska and other cold climates, this means it’s time to start your leeks now if you haven’t gotten them going already. We simply broadcast ours in a flat of soil (just one solid pan of dirt) and dust some soil over the top. Leek seeds need total darkness to germinate but also need the warmth that other plants require. I have had good success with placing damp newspaper over the top of the soil under our grow lights. Once about 50-75% of the seeds have sprouted, I remove the newspaper.
The greatest part about starting your own Alliums from seed is that they are all monocots. This means that just a single threadlike hair comes up as opposed to the donkey eared cotyledons of other vegetables. They don’t take up any space! Every week or two, give them a haircut to keep the plants below 6″. We love eating the cuttings as a replacement for green onions during the late winter. If plants seem crowded, thin to 1/4-1/2 inch per leek. Because they are started so early and we hate up-potting, I tend to top fertilize with vermicompost tea or another diluted liquid fertilizer every few weeks if they begin to yellow.
Even though they are the first ones taking up room in your home, leeks are also one of the first to be moved outdoors (unlike those pesky tomatoes). They are very cold-hardy and moisture tolerant, even at a young age. They will need to be hardened-off just like any other plant but the gardening season has truly begun when those leeks spend the entire night outdoors.
Transplanting Once it’s safe to put them in the ground, separate the tangled mess of roots carefully and plant them all the way up the neck, leaving 2″ of plant above ground. I have had poor success with trimming roots and although there are some casualties, I try to leave the roots long. Plants can be spaced 2-6″ apart depending on how often you plan on harvesting and how large you want them to be. As the leeks continue to grow, hill up dirt around the neck to extend the edible white part of the leaves.
Harvest and Storage These mighty troopers can handle a mild frost and stay in our garden as long as week can keep them there. We learned about how well leeks store when we looked in a root cellar belonging to some friends in Homer last January. They had piles of leeks that looked like they had just come out of the ground. At that moment we swore off struggling with onions forever and were leek-converts for life. I like to chop, blanch, and freeze some for quick and easy meals but store as many as I have space for. As far as we have experienced, leeks need no special accommodation besides normal root cellar or refrigerator conditions. Root storage can be done in bunches with bottoms placed in damp sand. Wet leaves may get slimy but can be trimmed and cleaned to prolong storage.
Eating Leeks I first learned about the beloved leek when I was on of the head cooks at a Yoga center in BC. They didn’t allow onions or garlic because they considered them overstimulating for meditation. I was at a complete loss because my southwestern upbringing caused every single meal I made to start with those two items and end with a pile of hot sauce on top. The mild spice and acidity that leeks brought to my cuisine led to a much more diversified palette and ultimately made me a far better cook. Besides simply using them as an onion replacement, here are some other recipes that you may enjoy. Leeks have been eaten since Egyptian times, are a national symbol of Wales, and are chock full of folate and other vital nutrients. Huzzah, The Mighty Leek!
Leek Bread Pudding
Adapted from Epicurious.com
- 2 cups 1/2-inch-thick slices leeks (white and light green parts only)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 12 cups 1-inch cubes Brioche or any other leftover bread
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
- 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
- 3 large eggs
- 3 cups whole milk
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup shredded cheese (gruyere, swiss, etc)
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Rinse sliced leeks and sautee over medium-high heat.
When leeks finish releasing liquid, add butter and season with a pinch of salt and pepper, cooking for about 5 more minutes. Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally until the leeks are very soft. If at any point the butter breaks or looks oily, stir in about a tablespoon of water to re-emulsify the sauce.
Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through, until dry and pale gold. Transfer to a large bowl. Leave the oven on.
Add the leeks to the bread and toss well, then add the chives and thyme.
Lightly whisk the eggs in another large bowl. Whisk in the milk, cream, a generous pinch of salt, pepper to taste, and a pinch of nutmeg.
Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the cheese in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Spread half the leeks and croutons in the pan and sprinkle with another 1/4 cup cheese. Scatter the remaining leeks and croutons over and top with another 1/4 cup cheese. Pour in enough of the egg mixture to cover the bread and press gently on the bread so it soaks in the milk for about 15 minutes.
Add the remaining egg mixture, allowing some of the soaked cubes of bread to protrude. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup cheese on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until the pudding feels set and the top is brown and bubbling.
Kitcheree, a Yogic cleanse
From the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga
- 6 Tbsp ghee
- 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1 Tbsp turmeric
- 2 tsp coriander
- 3 Tbsp cumin
- 1/2-1 tsp chili flakes
- 1-2 tsp salt
- 1 cup chopped leeks
- 1 cup split mung beans (uncooked)
- 2 cup basmati rice (uncooked)
- 8 cups water
- 5 Tbsp ginger juice
- Heat the ghee in a soup pot. When it’s hot, add the mustard seeds. When they pop, add the other spices (except ginger) and the leeks.
- Stir the spices for a minute or two. Watch that they don’t burn.
- Add the rice and mung beans. Stir to coat them with the spices. Then add the water and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and turn the heat down to simmer until the rice and mung beans are cooked (about half an hour).
- Add the ginger juice.
- You can add more water if you prefer your kitcheree soupier, and more ghee if you want it richer.
- You can add vegetables like potatoes or squash to the pot for a heartier version.
- You can add chopped fresh kale or chard near the end of the cooking time for some extra green goodness.
- How do you like your kitcheree? Do you have a different version of this recipe? Do share in the comments!
Recipe reproduced from The Salt Spring Experience: Recipes for Body, Mind and Spirit.