In the Garden:
Here are the remaining leeks in my garden ready for harvest.
I'm a selective allium fan. I like garlic but don't like onions. However, there is one onion-family crop I have grown to love. Leeks are easy to grow, milder-flavored than onions, and mature in November and even December when the rest of the vegetable world is slowing down.
Leeks I Have Known
Unlike garlic and onions, whose bulbs we eat, leeks are grown for their leaves. Actually, it's the stalk of the leeks that has the mild flavor and creamy, tender consistency that cooks crave. Leeks need a long season to mature, so I start my transplants indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost date in spring. I like the 'King Richard' variety for its small size and delicate flavor. But for a real hardy winter plant, I also grow 'Winter Giant', which can withstand 20F temperatures.
Leeks grow best in a well-drained soil amended with compost. I plant my transplants in 6- to 8-inch-deep trenches, and as they grow, I fill in the trench with soil as they grow. I also hill up the soil around the stalks a month or so after they're transplanted to help keep the stalk white and, therefore, more tender.
I add a supplemental complete organic fertilizer such as 5-3-3 a month after transplanting to keep the leaves and stalks growing strong and keep them weeded early in the season.
Leeks? What Leeks?
Then I forget about them. Leeks will just slowly grow as the lettuce, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and almost all the other vegetables come and go. Finally, when cool weather sets in, I remember the leeks, which now have grown 1 to 2 feet tall, with strapping blue-green leaves, standing tall like soldiers.
With the cool fall temperatures, the flavor of leeks becomes mild, and they are great sauteed with butter as a stand-alone vegetable dish or added to soups and stir-fries. They give a hint of onion flavor, with a soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture. Just be sure to clean the stalks well, because soil tends to lodge between the sheaths of the leaves and can give your soft leeks a gritty texture.
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