Q. How are leeks different from onions and garlic?
A. The leek is a member of the onion family, but is milder than either onions or garlic. Unlike onions or garlic, leeks do not form bulbs or produce cloves but develop an edible 6 to 10 inch long round stem as much as 2 inches in diameter. The leek has leaves very similar to garlic. They are flat rather than round and hollow like onion leaves.
Q. How and when should leeks be planted and how do you know when they are ready for harvesting?
A. Leeks may be grown from seeds or transplants much the same as onions. They require about 120 days from seed to maturity. In northern areas they should be set out as transplants in early spring to be ready to harvest by mid-summer. In southern areas they do best when seeded or transplanted in late summer or early fall for harvesting during early winter. Leeks mature best during temperatures averaging below 75 degrees F. Both the leaves and stems of leeks may be eaten. After they reach sufficient size, harvesting can begin on the leaves. Harvesting too many of the leaves early may affect the growth of the stalk.
Description – The leek is a member of the onion family, but unlike the onion, it does not form a bulb. A thick, fleshy stalk is about the same diameter as the base and resembles a large green onion. The leaves are flattened like those of garlic.
Culture – Leeks are grown exactly like onions. Seeds or transplants should be planted during late fall or early winter. Plants should be set out in early spring. When the plants are about the size of a pencil, till up the soil around the plants to cause the edible portion to be longer and whiter.
Availability – Leeks are commonly found in most areas of Texas throughout the year, but especially in late spring and during the winter. Some commercial production occurs in Texas. Leeks are a common garden vegetable.
Selection – Select or harvest leeks that are about one inch in diameter and that are free from blemishes. Tops should be healthy looking and free of discoloration.
Storage – Leeks will keep for several weeks if maintained at temperatures near 35 degrees. F. and a relative humidity near 90 percent.
Nutrition Information – Leeks are low in sodium and calories; 3-1/2 ounces contain 61 calories, 20 percent of the RDA for iron and 20 percent of the RDA for vitamin C.
Preparation – Leeks should be thoroughly washed to remove grit and sand which accumulates under the outer layers of the leaves. If desired, split the leek in half lengthwise to aid in the removal of grit. Leeks are then ready for use. They may be eaten raw, alone, or in salad combinations or cooked. Cooking time will vary according to the leek’s diameter and age. When the base can be easily pierced with a knife, the leeks are ready. Avoid overcooking which makes them tough. They have acquired fame in soups and stews, but exhibit their versatility served au gratin, creamed, sauteed alone or in combination with other fresh vegetables.
Microwave Instructions – Wash and split about one pound of leeks in half lengthwise. Place in covered dish and microwave on high five to seven minutes.