Emergency phone call from a friend last night: “Ginger! How do I clean a leek? You can’t eat the green parts, right?” Great question! Just last week I wanted to make bulgur wheat with leeks for springtime so I bought all the ingredients and then I started to prep. I realized at that moment: I’ve never cooked a leek before! They are very beautiful – white bulb at the bottom spreading into firm, dark green leaves at the top. To prepare, you slice off the very bottom root-part and the dark green leaves at the top, then cut lengthwise so you can clean out the dirt between layers. The white part is the most soft and delicious. If you are going to sauté leeks as part of your recipe, you can go further into the more firm green leaves because they will soften as they cook. Leeks have a nice onion-like smell but do not overpower other vegetables.
Like onions and garlic, leeks belong to the Allium family and are highly regarded as beneficial to health. Leeks are high in vitamin K, A, C and B6. They also contain manganese, folate, potassium and iron. They are high in fiber and low in calories (like so many other vegetables). Because they also contain the compound kaempferol, they provide heart healthy benefits by relaxing blood vessels. Kaempferol combined with other antioxidant polyphenols and carotenoids in leeks protect against oxidation throughout the cardiovascular system. Leek consumption was first reported beneficial by the Greeks and Romans but is thought to have originated in Central Asia with dried specimens having been found in Egyptian sites. Because leeks can grow well in cool, wet climates, they became popular in the UK and are even a celebrated national emblem in Wales.
You may be most familiar with bulgur wheat from Tabbouleh salad. More common in Middle-Eastern and Indian cuisine, bulgur wheat is simply whole wheat that has been lightly cooked and cracked open. Like other whole grains, it is high in fiber, iron and B vitamins. You can use bulgur similarly to how you would use brown or wild rice or qunioa. Bulgur can be found in health food stores or anywhere that carries Bob’s Red Mill; they make a nice bulgur.
- 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 leeks white and tender green section chopped
- 2 leaves bunches Swiss chard or collards stems andcut/torn into 1-inch pieces (separate)
- 4 cups mushrooms sliced (any variety you prefer)
- 6 garlic cloves chopped finely
- teaspoons ½each salt and fresh-ground pepper
- 5 1/2 cups vegetable broth
- 2 cups bulgur wheat
- Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add leeks and chard stems. Cook until soft (~4 minutes). Add mushrooms and saute an additional 5 minutes. Add green leaves and garlic. Cover and simmer 5 minutes more. Add salt, pepper, broth, bulgar to mixture. Bring to a boil, reduce and simmer covered for 10 mins. Serve warm.
Ginger Hultin,MS, RD, CSO
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