This post comes to you from the nutrition students at Acadia University, and it’s the first of several from the Food Commodities course. Curious about the nutritional value of some of your favourite local foods? We have some answers for you, plus a great recipe for Pumpkin, Sweet Potato and Leek Soup! A big thanks to the students and their professor, Barb Anderson! This post was written by Abigail Georgitis, Marley Bowen, Danielle Kardynal, Jacquelyn Caravella, and Chelsey Spinney.
Ever wondered what that giant version of a green onion sitting in the produce section of your grocery store is? As it turns out, it’s a leek, which is a cousin to onion and garlic. Leeks come in various packaging, but most often you will see bunches just loosely tied or banded together. They are available year round in some major grocery stores and the seasonal availability in most local Nova Scotia farm markets is roughly August until December, sometimes extending all the way into March! An interesting tidbit: the Roman Emperor Nero regularly ate leeks, so they have been used dating back to the first century.
Leeks grow well in a cool climate, so Nova Scotia is an ideal location! They grow well in variable soil conditions, especially in a well-fertilized one, as long as it is not too wet. When they’re about 2 inches wide and roughly 15 inches long, they have matured enough to harvest. At this point you can harvest them easily by scooping under the bulb with a gardening fork. If you refrigerate your leek fresh from the ground, it is so hardy it can easily last up to a month. Leeks may be processed by trimming and discarding damaged top leaves. The renewed popularity of the root cellar helps with storage of leeks, as they can be stored there for some time.
In comparison to many other food products, the way in which leeks are cooked can have a significant impact on the resulting nutritional value. If you intend to cook them and want to retain most of the nutrients, it is suggested to steam leeks without a cover so as not to lose as many nutrients as you would by boiling them directly in water. Over or undercooking leeks can affect the texture, but will not greatly change their flavour. When cooked, the green coloring of the leek will darken very faintly, and if overcooked the leaf will turn a drab, muted green.
And what is the nutritional value of a leek, anyway? You may be surprised to find out, but these often-undervalued green monsters are just chock-full of nutrients! Want to help your cardiovascular health? Eat a leek! They contain a large amount of the flavonoid kaempferol, which has been shown to help our cardiovascular system. Leeks also contain antioxidants that protect our blood vessels and cells from damage. Antioxidants may help prevent certain types of cancer and that’s not all…leeks are a great source of folate. This is good for everyone but especially for women who are in childbearing age or may be in the first stages of pregnancy. Vitamin C, manganese, iron, and vitamin B6 are also present in leeks, which are considered a low calorie vegetable. At only sixteen calories per half a cup, leeks contain many nutrients and are a tasty addition to any meal!
Speaking of adding leeks to meals, here are a few ways to dish it up. As leeks are similar to onions, they can be a flavor booster to soups (cream of leek, or as an additive to flavor other soups and stews), mixed into salads, as a garnish, or a flavor enhancer for a roast, baked dishes and many other recipes. Cooking leeks is easy as well as they can be roasted, served in a stir-fry, baked on their own, or even served raw. Do you have leftover fresh leeks? They can last anywhere from five days to two weeks, depending on how you store them. If you have just purchased leeks and are not planning on using them that day, don’t trim them before refrigerating. It is also best to refrigerate the vegetable and not to can or freeze leeks. Wrap them in plastic or put them in a sealed container, otherwise the smell might ‘leek’ out to the rest of your food. Toss it in your crisper and they’re good to go until you’re ready to use them!
It is starting to get a little chilly outside, so here is a quick and easy winter-warmer soup, made with leeks and other produce you can find at your local farmer’s market!
Pumpkin, Sweet Potato and Leek Soup
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 leeks, chopped
- 1 small white onion, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 1 small carrot, chopped
- 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 medium sugar pumpkin, seeded and cubed
- 2 Tbsp chopped garlic
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
- 1 pinch ground cloves
- 1 pinch ground nutmeg
- 1 pinch ground cinnamon
- salt and ground black pepper to taste
- Heat oil in a heavy-bottom pot. Add leeks, onion, celery, carrot, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and garlic and sauté until they start to brown.
- Add bay leaf, stock and cream; bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until all vegetables are tender.
- Add sage, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt and pepper to taste. Remove bay leaf and puree. Serve hot. Makes about 8 servings.