SOLDIERS FROM Wales adorned their helmets with this vegetable, and the notorious Roman Emperor Nero wolfed it down to improve his voice.
Despite these legends, the humble leek gets little attention today.
So it’s time to give it proper credit — and embolden you to try it, too.
But first, a little information about what a leek is and why it’s good for you.
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The leek is a cousin of the onion and garlic, but it has a milder taste. It’s also loaded with vitamins A, B and K as well as manganese, a mineral that’s considered an essential nutrient.
But when you stroll past this thing that looks like a green onion on steroids, you may pass it up because you don’t know quite what to do with it.
Actually, you can do quite a lot. A few quick tips to get you started:
Pick a firm, solid, long leek that is white near the root and dark green on the opposite end.
To prepare the leek, cut off about a fourth of the dark, woody green end — but save it to make vegetable broth later. Next, slice the leek lengthwise several times, without cutting all the way through the root end, then separate the layers and rinse them under cold water. You’ll be surprised by the amount of dirt and grit hidden inside; that’s because dirt accumulates as the tubular layers grow upward. Shake the cut pieces ’til dry, then chop them. For smaller pieces simply slice along the length of the leek six times, then make smaller cuts.
Now comes the part about what to do with your nice, clean chopped veggie.
As a single person, I often hear single friends say they rarely cook for themselves. Most of the time, they admit, they munch on frozen, canned or processed foods when they’re alone. But I say you can find quick, much more healthful ways to cook for yourself.
And this versatile vegetable is one place to start. While it’s often relegated to soups and stocks as a flavor booster, it has plenty of other uses. I created this recipe for Kale and Leek Pancakes because it’s fast and easy. With only four main ingredients, this is great not just for singles but for anybody with a hectic lifestyle. The pancakes can be served as a savory breakfast, a main course for lunch or a side at dinner.
You’ll have some chopped leek left over. Toss it in a salad, scramble with eggs or stir into rice.
Kale and Leek Pancakes
For the pancakes
1 cup finely chopped kale (dinosaur is best variety), center vein removed
¼ cup chopped leek
1 tablespoon water
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup peanut oil
For the topping
1 tablespoon low-fat sour cream
1 tablespoon low-fat yogurt
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
Dash of salt
1. To make the pancakes: Mix kale, leek, eggs, water, salt, pepper and cheese together in a bowl.
2. In a frying pan over medium-high heat, heat the peanut oil. Using a half-cup measuring tool, gently drop the mixture onto the oil. Cook 2 minutes until brown; cover with a splatter guard if grease starts to jump from the pan. Flip the pancake and cook another 2 minutes. When browned, remove the cake and place on a paper towel. Repeat the process with the other half of the batter.
3. To make the topping: Mix the sour cream, yogurt, turmeric and salt together. Drop a dollop of the mixture onto each pancake and serve immediately.
Christine Willmsen is a Seattle Times reporter and blogs independently as The Solo Cook at www.thesolocook.com. John Lok is a Seattle Times staff photographer.