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Friday, November 26, 2010

LEEK , HOW TO COOK LEEK: HEALTH BENEFITS OF LEEK AND HISTORY: LEEK AND POTATO SOUP

LEEKS, GANDNA, (ALLIUM PORRUM)
Leeks are believed to be native to Central Asia, and have been cultivated there and in Europe for millennia. The Romans have been credited with taking them to Britain, but they might have arrived there earlier than 55 BC via the Mediterranean and Phoenician traders who would have taken them to Greece and Rome.
   Both the Greeks and the Romans used them when they had sore throats and they were believed to be beneficial to the voice even if you didn’t have a sore throat. Aristotle believed that the partridge (a common bird in Greece) had a sweet singing voice because it fed on leeks. The Emperor Nero is reputed to have had a daily diet of leeks in order to have a strong singing voice. He was nicknamed porophagus, or leek-eater. Wales, known as “The Land of Song” may owe some of its reputation for raising singers to the leek, which is a national symbol of Wales along with the daffodil, which is called cenhinen Bedr or Peter’s leek in Welsh.
   The ancient people of Wales were pagans and knew a thing or two about the healing power of plants. By the time of the patron Saint of Wales, Dewi Sant or Saint David, the Druidic lore might have been waning, but the saint ordered the Welsh soldiers to wear leeks in their helmets in the battle against the Saxons invaders so that they didn’t kill soldiers on their own side.  This must have been before his death in AD 589.The leek was used as a medicine as well as for food, and was particularly esteemed for its efficacy against the common cold and for its ability to assist in childbirth. It was believed to ward off evil and to protect against being wounded in battle and the danger of being struck by lightning. It was also used to foretell the future, and one of the fortune-telling tricks was for young girls to sleep with a leek under their pillows so that they would dream of the man who would be their future husband. In the 14th century the feared Welsh archers wore the leek colours of green and white, perhaps in the Battle of Crecy.
   Shakespeare has Henry V in the play of the same name tell the Welshman, Fluellen “for I am Welsh you know.” Nowadays you can see leeks still being worn in Wales on Saint David’s day on the 1st of March, along with daffodils. (At least you can eat the leek if you feel hungry.) They are also worn on the days of international rugby matches in the capital city of Wales, Cardiff. The Tudor kings who came to power in 1485 after the Battle of Bosworth had Welsh roots (so King Henry VIII was part Welsh) and the these kings recorded payments to their Welsh household guards for the leeks they sported on Saint David’s Day. Today the leek on the reverse side of the one pound British coin represents Wales.
   Leeks are closely related to onions and garlic but have a milder taste. They are good used in soups and the Welsh cawl is a soup with leeks as one of the main ingredients. They can be steamed, boiled or braised, and roasted with meat or chicken. However you need to clean leeks thoroughly and to do this you should make a slit in one side of the trimmed leek, and cut off the root, then clean the dirt and grit from the insides by placing the cut under running water, and letting it flow through the leek. You can eat the entire leek but the green leafy tops are usually just used for making a vegetable stock. You can also sauté sliced leeks with fennel in olive oil and garnish with fresh thyme and lemon. They can also be finely chopped and used in salads.
   Leeks are also good for our health and apart from helping get rid of a cold quickly and preventing them, the flavonoid, kaempferol present in leeks has been found to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer as well as protecting blood vessels from damage. It might also help the body produce Nitric Oxide (NO) which is a naturally occurring gas that helps dilate the blood vessels and decrease production of asymmetric dimethylaginine (ADMA) which inhibits the body’s natural ability to produce NO.
   Leeks also contain omega-3 and -6 fatty acids which we need and it has vitamin B6 (folate) throughout although there is more in the bulb than in the upper leaves. This helps reduce the risk of contracting cardiovascular diseases. The antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin (beta-carotenoids) reduce the free radicals that attack the cells and cause skin aging and other health problems. It is possible that leeks can help in atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, obesity and rheumatoid arthritis. It is high in vitamin C and potassium and also contains the minerals zinc, copper, phosphorous,  iron, manganese,vitamins A and K and traces of selenium. The zinc and potassium content means that it will have a positive influence on our sexual health, and the leek can certainly boost our immune system.

LEEK AND POTATO SOUP
Ingredients
500 gr leeks, green leafy parts discarded or used for stock, thickly sliced
6 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 wineglass white wine
2 sprigs fresh thyme, crushed
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
½ bunch of parsley finely chopped
3-4 cups milk
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Method
Boil the potatoes and leeks in the chicken stock for 20 mins and then add the white wine, parsley, thyme and nutmeg. Cook for a further 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and blend, with the milk.
Return to a low heat and bring to the boil slowly.
Serve with fresh crusty bread.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


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