Aye, Leeks IS Good!: Cooking Up History

When you go to Ohio, and you go to Ohio in the summer and you drive through Amish country, you will find a plethora of veggie stands dotting the state and county roads. So, it follows, that you stop and peruse, drawn by the sure knowledge that you will find an assortment of ripe and affordable vegetable abundance. And you are not disappointed.

So, in your haste and joy at finding fresh veggies you come upon a bin of leeks, 4 for 1 dollar. You become ecstatic because, for anyone who has ever been to an American grocery store, you will remember that leeks are not a standard veggie and come with a hefty price tag, considerably more than 4 for 1 dollar. So you buy 4 leeks.

Then you realize. What do I do with…4 leeks?

In the ensuing traversing of your memory you recall a book you once read, French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano, had a recipe involving leeks and soup. That sounds good! But that recipe was a very healthy one and involved nothing but leeks and water. So back to your collection of cookbooks. Leek and chicken soup (no convenient chicken carcass so that is out), leek and barley soup (no barley), and so on. Leek and potato soup rings a bell from the Joy of Cooking and then something about leeks and quiche with bacon from an Alice Waters cookbook. That and the word pistou reverberating in your head from various other French themed cookbooks. Soup au pistou is a hearty bean and veggie soup from the Provence region of France.

What comes from this fertile mix…leek and potato soup au pistou flavored with turkey ham.

LEEK AND POTATO SOUP AU PISTOU WITH TURKEY HAM

(Note: this is a free-form recipe developed during a free-form culinary adventure, so feel free to adapt)

INGREDIENTS: 4 Leeks – 2 T olive oil – 1 T butter – pinch of dried Thyme to taste – water – 3 medium-large Yukon Gold potatoes – black pepper to taste (freshly ground) – 1/2 regular can of northern beans or pinto beans (rinsed and drained) – 1-2 T of turkey ham diced into tiny squares – powdered chicken soup base

DIRECTIONS: Wash leeks, peel outer skin, cut off about 2 inches above the white part and use only the white part and the slightly green part, discard the rest above. Cut the root end off. Slice carefully in half the long way, then again the long way, then in thirds. I call these leek noodles.

Place leeks in a large soup pot with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 generous pat of butter. Sprinkle with dried thyme (a little) and a dash of black pepper. Saute gently until transparent and soft.

Cut up potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes (with skins on if using Yukon Gold or Red varieties, otherwise skin them). Place into pot with leeks, cover with enough water to just cover potatoes and let them float (the ingredient should be able to swim around a little). Bring to boil. Add 1/2 can of rinsed beans, diced turkey ham, and the powdered chicken soup base (usually 3-4 teaspoons). When the soup reaches a boil, reduce heat to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft and just starting to fall apart. Add additional thyme and black pepper to taste just before removing from heat. Also add salt to taste.

Serve!

History…You knew it was coming, right?

And while you are serving, consider the historical connection. Being partly Welsh myself, I find it interesting that the leek is one of the national symbols of Wales. Scotland has the thistle, Ireland the clover, England the rose, and American states usually have a flower as their emblem, so why the leek?

The quote in the title “Aye, leeks is good!” is taken from Act 5, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s play, Henry V. So clearly, by the late 16th century, leeks and the Welsh lands were deeply connected.

According to Historic-UK.com the leek was referenced even earlier than Shakespeare’s time. It was the emblem of Wales worn on St. David’s Day. In the fourteenth century the colors of the leek, green and white, were adopted by Welsh archers at the battle of Crecy. And before that, historians surmise, that the medicinal qualities of the leek (because, aye, indeed, leeks is good for you!) coupled with the druidic religion of the Britons led to an affinity for the leek. And before that? Who knows, the druids were a religious class that passed on the wisdom of the “ancients” – which ancients? Good question!

Regardless, leeks are a healthy-for-people relative in the onion family. Try leek soup and see if you develop a taste for them and then you, too, will be able to say, “Aye, leeks is good!”

Keep thinking and cooking history!

– Amanda Stiver

 

 

 

 

 

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