Do you feel leeks have become somewhat overlooked of late? Jeanne believes it’s time for trendy “superfoods” like kale to step aside. We should relish the joy (and health factors) of eating leeks. Discover the rich qualities of the not so humble leek, along with her recipe for a supremely comforting chicken, leek, bacon and mustard bake.
Isn’t it annoying when the cool kids get all the attention? You grow up, side by side in the vegetable patch, equally tall and proud; equally green and impressive; and then all of a sudden your neighbour gets catapulted to the heights of superfood stardom, while you languish in the boring essentials category. It’s simply not fair. It’s kale, this, and kale that - it’s a superfood; it can cure everything from athlete’s foot to cancer; every chef from Azerbaijan to Zambia has made kale chips. But what about, the humble and hardworking leek?
Ah yes, regard the leek. It’s a member of the alium family which also counts onions, garlic, spring onions and chives among its numbers. It’s never been afforded superfood status, nor has it even had the publicity that onions and garlic have had as promoters of good health. But don’t be fooled - it is similarly well-endowed with flavonoids, folate and antioxidants and let’s be honest: you can eat more leeks than garlic bulbs!
Originating in central Asia, leeks arrived in Europe thousands of years ago and were prized by the Romans and Greeks for their medicinal purposes. Leeks were said to have a beneficial effect on the throat and Emperor Nero reputedly ate them on a daily basis to strengthen his voice.
Once leeks arrived in the UK (probably brought by the Romans) they quickly became prized vegetables because they could withstand the cold winters and still produce edible plants. But it is in Wales where the leeks reached the height of their recognition and were adopted as the country’s national emblem. This is thought to date back to a battle against the Saxons in 1620, during which the Welsh tucked leeks into their caps to help the troops distinguish friend from foe. The Welsh went on to win the battle and leeks became the official emblem of Wales.
You don’t have to be Welsh, though, to enjoy this easy chicken, leek, bacon and mustard bake. It’s simple to prepare and gloriously comforting to eat on a the chilly summer evenings we’ve been having, paired with creamy potato mash.
Chicken, Leek, Bacon & Mustard Bake
6 chicken legs (drumstick and thigh), skin on
1 Tbsp olive oil for frying
3 Tbsp seasoned flour
2 large leeks, sliced into rings
200g bacon bits
2 Tbsp wholegrain mustard
150ml single cream
Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Make the seasoned flour by adding generous amounts of salt and pepper to the 3 Tbsp of flour. Mix well and place in a shallow dish. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, dredge each chicken piece well in the seasoned four, shake off the excess and fry the chicken in the oil, turning until both sides are browned. Use a splatter screen as this bit can get messy!
Lay the cooked chicken pieces in a large, shallow ovenproof dish, then make the sauce.
Add the bacon bits and sliced leeks to the pan where you fried the chicken, scraping up any remaining bits of chicken skin as you fry them. Once the bacon is cooked, lower the heat and stir in the wholegrain mustard, then add the cream and stir to mix well. If the sauce seems too thick, you can thin it with a little milk.
Pour the sauce over the chicken, cover with aluminium foil and bake for about 45 minutes; then remove the foil and bake uncovered for a further 15-20 minutes until the chicken starts to brown nicely. Serve immediately on creamy mashed potatoes with wilted greens on the side.
For more satisfying leek recipes, head over to Great British Chefs who have a collection of dishes which make the most of this super veg. What are your favourite ways of serving leeks let us know here or over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.