Leeks are by far one of my favorite veggies for the winter garden. They are often one of the last things standing after the onslaught of alternating heavy frosts and unrelenting downpours of the wet coast. Even now, in mid-January, dozens stand regal and stoic in my front yard.
If you decide to grow leeks for your garden, put them out with the bulk of your other veg in the spring. You can start them from seed indoors and then set out the baby leeks once the chance of frost passes. Like most things in the garden, leeks are easy to grow and very forgiving for a novice gardener, providing you with a harvest from summer straight through the winter till you’re ready to plant them out again (provided you don’t eat them all first).
When it comes to leeks, plant lots. Even those you don’t eat will provide visual interest in your winter garden and they don’t take up much space. They’re a great candidate for intercropping as any kind of onion seems to deter and confuse pests. They are rarely troubled by pests or disease themselves.
Don’t be deterred if you find the outer leaves slippery and even downright slimy come wintertime. Peel back a layer or two and you will find them fresh and firm and white and smelling and tasting lovely.
Leeks are a versatile veggie and can be used any number of ways, but my fav has always been leek and potato soup. There is nothing like a meal of hearty homemade soup and fresh baked bread on a crumby winter evening. It’s cheap as chips to make (especially if you’re growing your own) and one batch will feed me an my guy a big supper and will keep me stocked with a warm healthy lunch for most of the work week. You can’t go wrong.
As you can see, with basically no effort or attention on my part, my garden produced GIGANTIC leeks. The big one was giving me trouble when I tried to pull it. A very large older gentleman was walking by and noticed me yanking on this thing in my yard. He didn’t even know what it was! He ended up coming into the yard and it took his entire weight to yard the beast from the soil. (This is an especially tricky feat giving the aforementioned slimy nature of winter leeks.) I’m lucky neither of us landed on our duffs.
If you haven’t cooked with leeks before, be prepared that they can get a big sandy. You only want to eat the thick, tender stalks; the dark green leaves are tough and will be better used in the compost heap than your soup pot.
So fist slice them down the middle like this:
You’ll want to give them a good rinse at this stage to get out any grit or sand in between the leaves. I don’t bother hilling mine up to blanch the stalks like some people do (remember I’m a lazy gardener) and I think that might be why I don’t have major grit issues.
I can never get over how beautiful something as ordinary as veggies can be.
Once your leeks are cleaned, slice them up and set them aside.
Leek & Potato Soup
- about 4 slices of bacon
- 2 large leeks
- 1 knob of butter
- 4 to 5 good sized potatoes (I used Yukon Gold), roughly chopped
- 1 liter chicken stock
- 1/2 cup milk or cream
- 3 large cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 dried chili
- 3 bay leaves
- handful of fresh thyme, rosemary & sage or a variety of fresh herbs of your choice
- salt and pepper to taste
** Note – This is easily converted to a vegetarian or vegan recipe. Simply remove the bacon and milk, use veggie stock instead of chicken and replace the butter with marg or omit it completely. It won’t be as rich, so you might want to add a head of roasted garlic to beef up the flavour a bit.**
First saute the bacon in your soup pot. Once it’s going, add the butter and your sliced leeks. Cook them until they begin to soften and add garlic, herbs and chili. Once leeks are becoming translucent, add chopped potatoes.
Add your stock, cover and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes but a low, leisurely simmer is fine as well. (You may need to add a bit of water, if you do, remember to compensate with a bit of extra salt.)
Once the potatoes are cooked, remove the chili, bay leaves and any woody stems from the herbs and use a stick blender to puree the soup. You can use a standard blender too but for heaven sakes be careful and let it cool a bit first. Blend it as much or as little as you like. You can just give it a good mash if you prefer.
Add your milk or cream if using and salt and pepper. Heat the soup through without boiling.