I say leek, you say potato leek soup? Many people are unfamiliar with how to cook, prepare, and include leeks in their diet, other than in the classic vichyssoise. Although they seem like more of a sideline vegetable, leeks have a flavor and texture special enough to be the center of attention. And now that leeks are entering their peak season, it's the perfect time to experiment with this tasty and surprisingly healthy vegetable.
Leeks belong to the allium family of vegetables with garlic and onions. As a result, they contain many of the same beneficial compounds found in these well-researched, health-promoting vegetables.
One very important nutrient concentrated in leeks, is the B vitamin folate. Folate is a key B complex vitamin for supporting our cardiovascular system, preventing anemia by supporting red blood cell production, allowing nerves to function properly, and can even aiding in the prevention of dementias, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The highest concentration of folate is in a leek’s white, lower bulb portion (about 50% more than the rest of the stalk), but there is still enough folate in the green parts to also be considered beneficial.
I love cooking with leeks because their flavor is more delicate than onions, and their subtle sweetness never overpowers a dish like garlic can. This method is incredibly healthy, as it uses broth to cook the vegetable instead of oil. It also infuses the leeks with an incredible amount of flavor without added fat. Save the oil for the dressing and you’ll be preserving the olive oil’s delicate benefits.
Leeks and lemon seem to be best friends, so I made sure to include a lot of citrus in this dish. Using both the juice and the zest of the lemon is a twofer for flavor. I also threw in some freshly cooked chickpeas and goat's milk feta to make this a more substantial meal, but you could also omit them for a more simple side. Just don’t forget the dill---it’s divine!
Lemony Leeks with Chickpeas and Feta
3 large leeks
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup chickpeas (canned is fine)
½ cup crumbled goat feta
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. liquid honey
juice and zest of one lemon
pinch of sea salt + pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small bunch fresh dill
1. Slice off the root end of the each leek, then cut the stalk into 1-inch chunks on the diagonal (see photo). Use both the white and pale green portion of the stalk, discarding the dark green tops. Submerge leek slices in a large bowl of water to remove dirt between the layers. Be careful the layers stay intact.
2. In a large frying pan or saucepan, heat the vegetable broth until simmering. Remove leeks slices from water and place each slice with one flat side down in the broth. Cover and let simmer for 4-5 minutes on medium heat.
3. While the leeks are cooking, make the dressing by combining all ingredients except for the lemon zest and dill.
4. When leeks are just tender (do not over cook!), remove from pan with tongs and set on a serving platter, leaving the remaining broth. Pour chickpeas into the pan and heat in the broth for about one minute, tossing to warm through. Add half of the dill and toss.
5. Remove pan from heat and place chickpeas on top of the leeks. Pour dressing over top, sprinkle with remaining dill, lemon zest, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.
Sarah Britton is a holistic nutritionist, vegetarian chef, and the creator of the award-winning blog My New Roots. Sarah is currently a chef at three organic restaurants in Copenhagen, Denmark, where she has earned praise for her creative and adventurous recipes. A Certified Nutritional Practitioner, she is also the founder of New Roots Holistic Nutrition, where she educates others to be an active participant in their own health and healing.