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Crop of the Week: Leeks
• Because of our excellent agricultural growing conditions and climate in Yuma County, leeks are grown primarily as a starter crop for planting in other regions. The desert-grown leeks are harvested in the spring as small, live plantlets that are later transplanted in more northern climates. There they develop into fully mature leeks.
• The leek is a vegetable in the same family with onion and garlic, but the flavor is much more refined, subtle and sweet than the standard onion.
• Leeks will not produce bulbs like their cousins but instead develop an edible, 6- to 10-inch-long, round stem that can measure 2 inches in diameter. The edible portions of the leek are the white base of the leaves (above the roots and stem base), the light-green parts and to a lesser extent the dark-green parts of the leaves.
• Leeks can be chopped and boiled, fried (which leaves it crunchier and preserves the taste) or raw in salads and other dishes. They are an ingredient of cock-a-leekie soup, leek and potato soup. One of the most popular uses is for adding flavor to stock. The dark-green portion is usually discarded because it has a tough texture, but they can be sauteed or added to stock.
• Although leeks are often interchangeable with onions and garlic, they can require specific preparation and are often highlighted in recipes for their particular flavor.
• To store, refrigerate in a plastic bag up to three days.
• They contain many of the same beneficial nutrients and health promoting compounds as onions. 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.
• Leeks date back to 4000 BC. It has been part of the Egyptian and Mesopotamia diet. The Romans considered it royal food because it was Emperor Nero's favorite food. He believed it would enhance his voice.
• The leek is one of the national emblems of Wales. Shakespeare, for example, refers to the custom of wearing a leek as an “ancient tradition” in the play “Henry V.” The 1985 and 1990 British one-pound coins bear the design of a leek in a coronet, representing Wales. Perhaps the most visible use of the leek is as the cap badge of the Welsh Guards, a regiment within the Household Division of the British Army.
Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at email@example.com or 726-3904.