Leeks: the star vegetable of French Women Don’t Get Fat, whose publication actually caused many a local run on them—no joke. You would think the French owned the rights to the leek, which enjoys almost noble rank in France. Le poireau is both the vegetable and what they call the green-and-white ribbon of the Ordre national du mérite agricole, the national honor for distinction in food, wine, or agriculture.
But the leek is also the staple and historical symbol of the Welsh (see Prince Charles’s escutcheon) and makes a memorable appearance in Henry V (act 5, scene 1), when King Harry’s faithful Fluellen defends his Welsh pride using the vegetable as a cudgel and delivers himself of the ungrammatical truism “Ay, leeks is good.” A few more words are due this most distinguished bulb, with its slightly sweet, oniony, even nutty taste, its wealth of nutrients, and its mildly diuretic effect (a secret I have been doing my best to expose).
In France we consume leeks most of the year, except from August to October. In winter they are huge, and we avoid the fattest ones as they are often too fibrous. In spring and summer they tend to be thin and tender and are followed by the poireaux baguettes, a very skinny variety. Come spring, ah, the farmers’ markets abound with them—lately the baby leeks called ramps have been the season’s first celebrity sightings.
The local leek shortages in America that followed the introduction of my Magical Leek Soup weekend, were truly incroyables, especially when one commentator predicted speculation on the commodities exchange. But when several health magazines published the recipe with a photo of whole leeks cooking in a pot, I knew there was still work to be done in bringing the leek stateside. When cooking with this mild and refined form of garlic, you should cut away and discard the green: the white bulb and the white part of the stalks are the edible part! With that off my chest, let me add that a world of possibilities is open to you with leeks, the Magical Leek Soup from French Women Don’t Get Fat being only the most Spartan alternative (though still a good one for recapturing your equilibrium from time to time, as we all need to).