Perfect your Christmas caroling with a little help from the leek

Heather Rockwood is a food science junior and the Mustang Daily food columnist.

The holidays are just around the corner and the winter wind rings with the high-pitched squeals of carolers young and old singing all around town.

It is a well-known fact honey soothes the throat for melody making, but Roman Emperor Nero once swore by the power of leeks to perfect his singing voice. As caroling season approaches, leeks conveniently reach the peak of their season and offer the prime opportunity for the hungry and musically inept to register this old ruler’s words with reality.

Leeks have been cultivated for more than 3,000 years with a myriad of benefits acclaimed to their name. The Egyptians believed leeks provided strength for those building the pyramids. Hippocrates prescribed leeks to cure nosebleeds and the soldiers of Wales used leeks in their hats to identify themselves from their Saxon enemies. Today the health benefits of leeks are still widely celebrated across the continents.

Leeks are close relatives to both garlic and onions (all part of the Allium family), and share many of the common health benefits associated with the Allium family. Vegetables of this family are commonly recognized as agents that lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and increase HDL (“good” cholesterol). This family boasts high levels of vitamin C, folate, iron and magnesium, which all contribute in stabilizing blood sugar.

Everyday families respect the traditional rule of hierarchy among members. For example, a grandfather is much wiser than his beloved grandchild and an older brother is much stronger than his younger sibling — the Allium family is no different. The wise grandfather or stronger brother is represented by garlic, and the leek plays the role of the grandchild or younger sibling that offers the same health benefits but at slightly lower levels — keeping this in mind, be sure to keep your leek servings big and healthy.

When it comes to leek serving size it is clear bigger is better, but when walking the local markets and selecting the most delicious leek for the dinner table this cliché motto holds no validity. As leeks mature they increase in diameter size and will become woody. Stalks ranging in one inch to one and a half inches in diameter provide the most promising flavors.

Color is also a key component to consider in selection. White stalks, free of any yellow discoloration, with firm rich green tips are desirable. Once you have selected the perfect leek, be sure to wash it thoroughly, as leeks are notorious for collecting and hiding dirt and grit in their folds.

As many of us know from personal experience, our characteristics are often influenced by our families and, once again, the leek is no different from the everyday family. This vegetable shares many characteristics with its beloved cousin, the onion. Although the flavor of the leek is similar to the onion, it is much more subtle, delicate and sweet. These flavor characteristics make leeks the perfect addition to soups and any meal prepared for a picky eater.

Whether or not leeks give you the ability to sing an angelic melody from heaven is still debatable, but surely this down-to-earth, family-oriented vegetable can make at least one note resound in harmony …“yummmm!”

CLUE: Viering, shukuga, sherehe, simkhah, celebración, fest!

Leek Potato Soup

(Courtesy of www.foodnetwork.com)

Ingredients

— 1 pound leeks, cleaned and dark green sections removed, approximately 4 to 5 medium ones

— 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

— Heavy pinch kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning

— 14 ounces, approximately three small, Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced small

— 1 quart vegetable broth

— 1 cup heavy cream

— 1 cup buttermilk

— 1/2 teaspoon white pepper

— 1 tablespoon snipped chives

Directions

Chop the leeks into small pieces.

In a 6-quart saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks and a heavy pinch of salt and sweat for five minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook until the leeks are tender, approximately 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the potatoes and the vegetable broth, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and gently simmer until the potatoes are soft, approximately 45 minutes.

Turn off the heat and puree the mixture with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in the heavy cream, buttermilk and white pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Sprinkle with chives and serve immediately, or chill and serve cold.

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