By Drew Bowles, RD
The leek—a mild, onion-like vegetable—falls into the category of vegetables known as aromatics, which deliver a deep flavor and aroma when heated or crushed. Historically, leeks were widely consumed in ancient Egypt in soups and oils. The leek has long been a national emblem of Wales and is a commonly used ingredient in British cuisine. It’s easy to understand the historical popularity of leeks, given their nutritional benefits and delicious taste.
Leeks are a natural source of insulin, which is a beneficial prebiotic. Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible food components that promote the growth of helpful bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics may improve gastrointestinal health and also enhance calcium absorption.
In addition to leeks’ benefits to gastrointestinal health, they provide multiple essential nutrients such as vitamins A and C. Vitamin A supports a variety of health functions such as immune support, vision, and reproduction. This vitamin also supports cell growth and differentiation, playing a critical role in the formation and maintenance of the heart, lungs, and kidneys.
Vitamin C plays an important role in immune function and improves the absorption of iron in the body. Iron is a necessary component in the transfer of oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. Ongoing research on the antioxidant properties of Vitamin C also links it to the possible prevention or delayed development of certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases.
Great Ways to Enjoy Leeks
For the best flavor and texture, use fresh aromatics when cooking. Leeks and other aromatics such as garlic, ginger, and shallots can add flavor to dishes without adding fats and oils. Sauté these vegetables in small amounts of oil, juice, broth, or water to soften them without browning.
- Grill leeks and serve over white beans or steamed baby spinach for a delicious side dish.
- For a tasty twist on pizza, sauté leeks with cherry tomatoes, garlic, and pine nuts, then bake the mixture along with shredded Gruyère cheese on a whole-grain flatbread.
- For a new take on risotto, heat leeks in a saucepan and combine with Arborio rice, low-sodium chicken broth, prosciutto, peas, and tomatoes.
- Blend potatoes and vegetable stock with sautéed leeks, garlic, and thyme for a hearty and healthy winter soup.