Leeks are related to onions. That is about as definitive as I am going to get as the source materials I have referred to are incredibly wishy-washy. Scientifically, leeks are referred to as Allium ampeloprasum (wild leek) that preceded the Allium porrum (leeks cultivated in Europe). But they could also be Allium kurrat for the Middle Eastern variety of the same plant. At any rate, leeks have a mild, oniony, sweetish flavor that is superb in several dishes, notably soups and stews. They are not terribly common in Southeast Asia as they do not generally thrive in hot and humid weather. Leeks should be differentiated from scallions which are actually immature onions and have a much stronger or sharper onion flavor. Leeks are one of those cultivated vegetables that have achieved near mammoth proportions in the West â€“ in Australia and North America there are leeks that could double as baseball bats, they are so thick and hefty. In some areas, the base of leeks are covered with sand as they grow to attain a much larger portion of the stem that is white, kind of like the treatment done to white asparagus. This treatment is the reason that purchased leeks often have so much grit and sand and require careful washing to rid them of the dirt.
Leeks in the Philippines are mostly grown in the Mountain Province and vicinity. The cool weather seems hospitable for growing modest versions of the plant that have small even thin stems but still possess that unique leek flavor. I actually find the small leeks that we grow locally to be more tender than some of the large imported specimens. I suspect that our farmers donâ€™t bother to do the sand trick and therefore we get lots more green than whiteâ€¦ There were lots of leeks at the market over the weekend. What to do with them? I use them in a classic Vichyssoise (leek and potato soup) though I prefer it hot rather than cold, love them braised with stock or butter, and they are good as part of stir-fries or mixed vegetable dishes. When buying, look for fresh leaves, firm white sections to the stems and medium sized stems (donâ€™t pick the smallest, avoid the biggest). Leeks are pungent and should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag or their odor will permeate the other foods. My recipe for leek and potato soup is up next.