Learn to Love Leeks this Winter

It’s that time of year again, that’s right: leeks are back in season! Did you know this British grown vegetable is actually full of fibre and is a great source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant polyphenols?

Choosing leeks means you can continue to eat locally grown, seasonal produce during the autumn and winter months, when the British climate means that few native vegetables are available. The leek is one vegetable that is at its best during the coldest months of the year and because it’s packed with nutrients and crucial anti-oxidants means that incorporating it as part of a healthy balanced diet will help to stave off winter colds and flu. Leeks are naturally low in fat, salt and sodium (salt). They provide fibre needed for healthy digestion as well as good amounts of potassium which helps to keep blood pressure normal, iron and folate needed for healthy blood and vitamins A and C needed for strong immunity.

Leek are fantastically versatile and can be used in all sort of recipes to add flavour and bite. They are quick to chop and soften when you are short on time so are a perfect ingredient in your favourite meals, from weeknight pastas to comforting Sunday stews and everything in between.

Sadly us Brits tend to use leeks for the same traditional recipe every year. Now, although leek and potato soup is undeniably delicious and highly nutritious, it’s understandable that we can quickly get bored after a few weeks of filling up on this as a lunch time fix.

This winter I think it’s time to spice things up a little bit, so this week I’ve decided to share some of my favourite alternative leek recipes for you to have a go at cooking at home.

Enjoy and #LongLiveTheLeek!

LEEKS FOR ENDURANCE

When it comes to endurance events the key is plenty of carbohydrate in the diet. Carbohydrate is the fuel your muscles use while you are exercising but stores in the body are small, so a regular intake of carbohydrate-rich foods is necessary to keep them topped up. Low stores will result in poor performance and increase the risk of injury. Choose carbohydrate foods that release their energy slowly such the oats used in this pancake recipe and flavoured with the leeks and tomatoes.

Leek and oat savoury pancakes

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 leek, thinly sliced

4 sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped

100g rolled oats

250ml buttermilk or semi-skimmed milk

3 eggs, well beaten

50 cup flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

1 tbsp sunflower oil

Method:

Put oats into a large bowl, add the buttermilk or semi-skimmed milk. Let the oats soak in the overnight if possible but for at least 30 minutes.

Mix in the eggs, flour, baking powder, salt and sunflower oil using a hand whisk to get a fluffy mixture.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the leeks and cook until soft (approximately 5 minutes), stir in the sundried tomatoes and cook for a further minute. Stir into the pancake mixture.

Heat a griddle pan to medium high heat. Oil the pan and take a ladle of the pancake batter to drop onto the griddle. When air bubbles start to bubble up to the surface at the centre of the pancakes (about 2-3 minutes), use a flat spatula to flip them over. When golden or darker golden brown, they are done.

LEEKS FOR STRENGTH

The perfect snack after a strength training session provides carbohydrate to replenish muscle glycogen, the body’s premium source of fuel for strenuous exercise and protein to repair and regenerate muscle fibres damaged during exercise. The presence of amino acids in the bloodstream and their availability to muscle cells is vital for repair and growth after exercise. The most rapidly digested protein is whey, found predominantly in milk and dairy products. Once digested, whey protein delivers high levels of amino acids that seem to stimulate growth and repair of the muscles. These muffins deliver on both counts there is plenty of carbohydrate from the flour and whey protein from the milk and cheese, nicely flavoured with the leek and tomatoes.

Leek and cheese muffins

Makes 10

Ingredients:

225g self-raising flour

1 leek, finely sliced

Freshly ground black pepper

100g half fat cheddar, grated

175ml semi-skimmed milk

1 egg

50ml olive oil

10 cherry tomatoes

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, leek, freshly ground black pepper and cheddar and mix well.

In a separate bowl, mix together the milk, egg and olive oil. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well.

Grease ten muffin moulds and half-fill each with the mix.

Prick each cherry tomato – this stops them popping when they cook – and press one tomato into the top of each spoonful of mix.

Spoon the remaining mixture over each muffin to conceal the tomato. Cook for about 20 minutes until golden brown.

LEEKS FOR BONE HEALTH

Whether you are doing a lot of weight bearing exercise such as running or non-weight bearing such as swimming, it is vital you look after your bone health by meeting your calcium needs. Milk and low fat cheese are an important source of calcium which is needed to build and maintain healthy strong bones and the calcium in dairy products is easily absorbed. Other sources of calcium include nuts and green vegetables such as leeks.

Leek, red pepper and cashew nut lasagne

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

850ml semi-skimmed milk
50g olive oil spread
50g plain flour
1 bay leaf
60g grated Parmesan

1 tbsp olive oil

3 leeks

3 red peppers

300g ricotta
12 lasagne sheets (ready to cook)
50g cashew nuts, roughly chopped
Half tsp of nutmeg powder
100g grated Mozzarella
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C /Gas Mark 4.

Place the milk, olive oil spread, flour and bay leaf in a saucepan, season, and whisk together over a medium heat continually until it comes to simmering point and has thickened. Turn the heat down to its lowest possible setting and allow the sauce to cook gently for 5 minutes. Then, stir in most (50g) of the Parmesan, remove the pan from the heat and discard the bay leaf.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, add the leeks and red peppers and cook until softened (approximately 5 minutes). Transfer into a large bowl and stir in the ricotta and cashew nuts. Season with black pepper and a pinch of salt.

Assemble the lasagne by spreading one-quarter of the sauce into the bottom of the dish, then one-third of the leek mixture and place sheets of lasagne on top of this. Repeat the whole process, this time adding one-third of the grated Mozzarella, then the lasagne sheets. Repeat again, finishing with a layer of pasta, the rest of the sauce and the remaining Parmesan and Mozzarella.

Bake for 50-60 minutes until the top is golden and bubbling.

LEEKS FOR RECOVERY

If you’re doing lots of exercise, you’ll be using lots of energy so you need to ensure you match your energy needs to help your body recover. Make sure that you have a balanced meal and aim for larger portions of carbohydrate-rich foods such as the noodles in this simple stir fry. When you finish training, aim to have a carbohydrate-rich snack or drink within 30 minutes and a balanced meal within 2 hours.

Leek and chicken noodles

Serves 2

Ingredients: 

250g egg noodles

1 spray of oil

1 leek, finely sliced

5 cm piece of root ginger, grated (or 1 cube of frozen ginger)

1 tbsp medium curry paste

125g frozen peas

2 skinless chicken breasts, diced (or 250g peeled prawns)

soy sauce to serve

Method

Break the noodles into a large bowl. Pour over enough boiling water to cover. Stir and toss the noodles in the water and then leave on one side for 6-8 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a wok and spray with oil. Add the chicken pieces or prawns and allow to cook through (about 10 minutes for the chicken and 5 minutes for the prawns). Remove from the wok and set aside on a plate. Stir-fry the leek and ginger until softened. Stir in the curry paste and cook for a further 2 minutes. Stir in the peas and chicken or prawns. Reduce the heat, cover and cook for 3 minutes.

Drain the noodles and add to the wok, toss well to coat. Serve with a splash of soy sauce.

LEEKS FOR IMMUNITY

Regular hard exercise can take its toll on the immune system as levels of valuable vitamins and minerals in the body are depleted. That is why it is important to put them back though a diet rich in immunity boosting nutrients. The mackerel is one of the richest sources of long chain omega 3 fatty acids, needed to counteract inflammation, while the leeks contains powerful antioxidant substances that can help to prevent cell damage. The avocado is a great source of vitamin E needed for immunity and heart health.

Mackerel, leek and avocado salad

Serves 2

Ingredients:

1 leek, roughly chopped

4 handfuls of rocket

1 avocado, diced

2 fillets of smoked mackerel, diced

8 cherry tomatoes halved

Juice of ½ a lemon

Handful of fresh dill, torn

4 teaspoons toasted mixed seeds

A dash of virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Steam the leek for about 2 minutes, until tender. Put the rocket, leek, avocado, smoked mackerel and tomatoes into a large serving bowl. Squeeze over the lemon juice, add the dill, seeds, olive oil and black pepper and toss lightly together.

LEEKS FOR WEIGHT LOSS

Research has shown that the best way to lose weight is to choose meals that help you feel fuller for longer while being low in calories. This means choosing meals that are balanced in carbohydrates, protein and plenty of fruit and vegetables. This couscous salad is a perfect match. The couscous provides some starchy carbohydrate, the feta provides protein and the leeks and other ingredients contribute to you 5-a-day whilst keeping the calorie content low.

Feta and pommegranate couscous

Serves 2

125g couscous

1 leek, finely sliced

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tbsp olive oil

Seeds from a pomegranate

50g dried apricot pieces

¼  cucumber, diced

150g feta, diced

25g black pitted olives, halved

Half a red pepper, sliced into strips

6 cherry tomatoes, halved

1tbsp. raisins

Handful of parsley, chopped

Method:

Steam the leek for about 2 minutes until tender. Put the couscous into a bowl and cover with 150ml boiling water. Cover with cling film and leave to stand for 5 minutes. When ready, fluff with a fork and stir in the lemon juice, oil and black pepper. When cool, add all the remaining ingredients and stir through and sprinkle with the parsley.

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