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Leeks & Scallions

Updated on May 31, 2010

Leeks: Take One In Public

Although they look like scallions that have spent way too much time at the gym, leeks have a flavor all their own, not to mention a long and illustrious history.

Although the Roman aristocracy sneered at onions and garlic as food for the poor, they had nothing but respect for leeks. The leek is also the national symbol of Wales, and there are reports that Welsh soldiers, on at least one occasion, went into battle with leeks in their hats so everyone would know which side they were on.

Leeks are close kin to onions, garlic, shallots, and chives - the allium family. But, unlike their allium relatives, which are generally used for flavor in combination with other ingredients, leeks can go solo. They're a vegetable in their own right. When you cook them, their oniony bite turns into a mild sweetness and their texture turns tender.

The only downside to leeks is grit and dirt that gets between the layers. To prepare your leeks for cooking, cut off the hairy end and the dark green parts. Most recipes will tell you to use only the white parts, but you can extend that to the light green parts and no one will know. Split the leeks lengthwise, separate the layers, and rinse out all the grit.

  • Use leeks instead of onions in poultry stuffing.
  • Deep-fry julienned leeks for garnish for fish, meat, or soup.
  • Braise leeks in wine, stock, or a mixture of the two for about 20 minutes and, if you like, add a touch of cream at the end. Use braised leeks as a bed for chicken or fish.
  • Make a classic potato-leek soup. Besides the leeks and potatoes, all you need is stock, milk or cream, butter, salt, and pepper. You can puree it or leave it chunky, and serve it hot or cold.
  • Try another potato-leek combination by adding sautéed chopped leeks (and maybe a little bacon) to your mashed potatoes.
  • Combine leeks and another green vegetable in a spring risotto; try peas, asparagus, or any leafy green.

Scallions: Green Onions Is The Place For Me…

Spring has sprung! It won't be long before the produce aisle will be teeming with the fruits and vegetables we've missed all winter. Unfortunately, the deluge starts slowly - an artichoke here, a bunch of asparagus there. It will still be a while before the full, bountiful harvest of the season shows up at the market.

In the meantime, we have to make the most of what few early spring crops there are, and one of them is scallions. The scallion is a humble vegetable, the often taken-for-granted cousin of the house of allium, the family of indispensable onions and majestic leeks.

Scallions have a milder taste than onions, but it's complemented by a slightly sharp, green flavor that you don't find in any other allium. They release their flavor after only a minute or two of cooking, so are perfectly suited for simple sauces and stir-fries that don't need the longer prep time that suits onions so well.

Make the most of scallions in this, their season. And take heart - the strawberries will be here soon.

Most recipes tell you to use only the white part of the scallion, but I use almost the whole thing. I throw out only the very tops, where they get dark green and tough.

  • Top pasta with a simple sauce made of sliced scallions, garlic, and scallops with a little white wine or chicken stock.
  • Add scallions and peas to rice or couscous for a simple green pilaf.
  • Put scallions in any salad - green, tuna, chicken, or potato.
  • Marinate chicken or fish in a mixture of scallions, ginger, soy sauce, and rice vinegar.
  • Scallions and eggs go well together - put scallions in omelets, frittatas, or scrambled eggs.
  • Use scallions instead of onions in pan-fried mixtures when making crab cakes, potato pancakes, or fritters.
  • Grill or roast trimmed scallions and serve them as an accompaniment to meat or poultry.
  • Bake with scallions - add them to savory breads, biscuits, or muffins.
  • Add scallions to a cream- or yogurt-based dip, or guacamole.

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