This quick and easy creamed leeks recipe is the perfect side dish for any roasted meat and a superb main meal choice for vegetarians.
Leeks are known scientifically as Allium Ampeloprasum and belong to the garlic, onions, shallots, and scallion family. They look like large scallions with a very small bulb and a long white stalk of layers that turn into green, tightly wrapped, flat leaves. While the commercially grown leeks have a fragrant, yet sweet and subtle flavour, their wild counterparts have a stronger, more intense flavour. The flavour in leeks is concentrated in the lower leaf and bulb portion.
Available throughout the year they are in season from autumn through to early spring when they are at their best.
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History and Origins
Leeks have been cultivated since the time of the Ancient Egyptians. Dried specimens from ancient sites, as well as wall carvings and drawings, show that the leek was a part of the Egyptian diet from around the 2nd millennium B.C..
The leek was the favourite vegetable of Emperor Nero, who consumed it most often in soup. Nero got through so many that he gained the nickname “Porophagus” (leek eater). According to Pliny’s “Historia Naturalis”, Nero ate them prepared in oil, believing it would aid in maintaining the clarity of his voice.
The Phoenicians are said to have been the first to bring leeks to Britain when trading tin with the Welsh where it soon became part of the staple diet. The British Isles elevated this simple garden-variety plant to a much higher status as the national symbol for Wales.
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Welsh National Symbol
In about 640 AD, when the Saxons were fighting the Welsh, King Cadwallader told his Welsh soldiers to wear leeks as a badge to distinguish themselves from their blood-thirsty opponents. To this day, the Welsh still wear a leek or a representation of one in their hats. When in war, leeks were thought to have aided in victory.
Wales’ association with leeks was recorded by William Shakespeare, in his play Henry V.
“Your majesty says very true: if your majesties is remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps; which, your majesty know, to this hour is an honourable badge of service; and I do believe your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek up Saint Tavy’s day.”
The French called it the “Asparagus of the Poor” until one of France’s own, Chef Louis Diat, at New York’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel at the turn of the century, created the famous dish based on a traditional recipe used by his mother and named it after his hometown, Vichy. Vichyssoise, a cold soup made of leeks and potatoes, is now a world celebrated classic dish.
The juice of the plant is used as a moth repellent and the whole plant is said to repel insects and moles.
Leeks are believed to be a diuretic and a blood building agent. Wild leeks have medicinal properties similar to that of wild onions.
Leeks contain many sulphur compounds. They also contain an impressive amount of polyphenols, including the flavonoid “kaempferol”. The sulphur found in leeks play an important role in supporting our body’s antioxidant and detox systems and the formation of our connective tissue.
An excellent source of vitamin K, leeks are packed with manganese, vitamin B6, copper, iron, folate and vitamin C.
Leeks are also a good source of vitamin A, in the form of carotenoids, dietary fibre, magnesium, vitamin E, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. The folate found in leeks is partly present in the bioactive form of 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF). The latter is the active form of vitamin B9 the human body can actually use, instead of a synthetic Folate or Folic Acid.
Substituting the Double Cream
For various reasons, you may need to substitute the double cream in this creamed leek recipe.
The high-fat content of double cream makes it excellent for whipping and using in cooked dishes as it does not separate easily and tastes delicious.
The flavour and texture of the creamed leek may be slightly different than you would get using heavy cream. A substitute must enhance the flavour of the dish and not clash with other ingredients so some experimentation may be required. None of these substitutes will whip like heavy cream.
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Heavy Cream Alternatives
1. Single Cream
One alternative is to use ordinary cream and whip it into soft peaks before adding to the recipe. Don’t heat it again after adding normal whipping cream or leave it to stand too long before serving – it will separate.
2. Milk & Butter
Is wonderful if your recipe does not require the cream to be whipped. For 1 cup of cream add ⅓ of melted unsalted butter to a ¾ cup of milk. If you use low-fat milk add 1 tablespoon of flour to thicken the mixture. Stir it very welL.
3. Skim milk
A skim milk and cornstarch mixture works very well. Mix one cup of milk and 2 tablespoons of corn starch or unflavoured gelatine together. Allow the mixture to thicken. Then whisk the ingredients briskly for 3-4 minutes until the mixture begins to thicken.
4. Tofu & Soy Milk
A low fat or vegan heavy cream substitute. Blend tofu with unflavoured soy milk until the mixture is smooth.
5. Cottage Cheese & Milk
A low-calorie double cream substitute, mix no-fat milk powder together with cottage cheese in equal amounts. Mix until smooth. You can use skim milk instead of milk powder.
6. Chilled Evaporated Milk & Vanilla Extract
The evaporated milk must be refrigerated and very cool before mixing. Add the vanilla to taste according to your preference. This is wonderful for soups and stews that demand double/ heavy cream.
7. Greek Yoghurt
Much thicker than regular yoghurt and reduces the fat in a recipe. Baking recipes for desserts or biscuits will need half yoghurt and half milk to preserve the taste of the fat from the double cream. Cheesecake does need half heavy cream and half yoghurt. Yoghurt curdles when it is heated too fast so use a very low heat when making a yoghurt sauce.
8. Low-fat Cream Cheese
Provides the same consistency of double cream and reduces the calories and fat content. You will only need half the amount of the instructed heavy cream. Cream cheese is slightly sour so do not use it in recipes that rely on the sweetness of the cream.
Creamed Leeks and Cheese
Leeks pair beautifully with any cheese you can think of.
Besides the cheese in the sauces mentioned above, you can mix some blue cheese into this creamed leeks recipe heating it just enough to melt the cheese into the cream.
Hard or soft blue cheeses work well with leeks especially Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Cambozola, Stilton and Dolce Latte.
Try using leeks in pies with potato and Roquefort cheese.
Feta or goats cheese crumbled on top of the leeks when serving.
Fromage fort (strong cheese) is a similar concept to the English potted cheese. This recipe uses bits of hard cheese, soft cheese, blue cheese, garlic and white wine. However, use a smaller proportion of blue cheese than the other cheeses, otherwise it will overwhelm the other flavours. It may also be known as Trois Fromage, meaning three kinds of cheese.
You can never go wrong with your daily household cheeses; Cheddar and Gouda.
Herbs and Spices to pair with Leeks
Leeks are relatives of onions and garlic, but they have a milder taste than either of them. Pair them with bay leaf, celery salt, dill, mustard, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, sage and thyme. Use leeks to make Cheesy Leek and Potato Gratin and Broccoli, Pea and Leek Soup.
Leeks may be steamed, boiled, and even fried. If fried, be sure not to brown them as this seems to make them tough. Fry them in butter and garlic. Some cooks like to add ginger. Just before the leeks start to brown add a bit of chicken stock or even some soy sauce especially if the leeks are to be included in a stir-fry.
How to Prepare Leeks for Cooking
To prepare leeks for cooking, cut off the tough roots at the base and any tips of the leaves that are browned or look unhealthy.
I prefer to cut them lengthways and separate the leaves then wash them individually. I don’t enjoy the possibility of eating sand; leeks leaves can trap a lot of the stuff.
Slice the leeks to your desired thickness. Generally, they are sliced across the grain for use in recipes.
To enhance the flavour leeks are always sautée in butter, even before adding them to soups and stews. Oil is added to the melting butter to stop the butter from burning.
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What to Serve with Leeks
Leeks have a light and sweet onion flavour and are often used as a substitute for onions in recipes. They are primarily used in soups and stews, but can also be cooked as a side dish, in which case, they should not be over-cooked. Over-cooking leeks can result in a slippery mess.
Leeks are sometimes used in salads or even to garnish a potato. To do this, slice the leeks very thinly and sprinkle over the salad or a potato dressed in sour cream.
The dark green leaves can be eaten as well as the white blanched stems. In fact, the leafy part contains more nutrients than the stem. This part is often chopped very thinly and added to soups, stock, or stews. A warning though, it can be tough.
Side Dishes and Bakes
Leeks can be baked in various dishes and even their own speciality bakes like a blue cheese, leek and mushroom pasta bake.
As a vegetable and side dish leeks can be served with anything. I really like leeks and I serve these creamed leeks all the time with roast chicken, steak or fish.
More Recipe Ideas
- Lamb & Leek Hotpot
- 2 leeks, washed
- 15ml (1 tbsp) butter
- 5ml (1 tsp) oil
- 100ml (3 oz) double cream
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Cut the whole leeks into 1cm (½ inch) slices.
- Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the oil.
- When the butter starts sizzling, add the leeks and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the leeks have softened.
- Add the cream and let it bubble for 1 minute.
- Season to taste and serve immediately.
- Serving Size: 1 serving
- Calories: 166
- Sugar: 1.3 g
- Sodium: 41 mg
- Fat: 16.1 g
- Saturated Fat: 2 g
- Carbohydrates: 5.4 g
- Protein: 1 g
- Cholesterol: 8 mg
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