Katy G. Wilkens
One of my favorite veggies in my winter garden is leeks. You can pull the fleshy, thick stems out of the ground until it’s freezing outside.

You Are What You Eat: Poor man’s asparagus: winter leeks in the garden

By Katy G. Wilkens

One of my favorite veggies in my winter garden is leeks. I hardly notice them during the summer, but at this time of year they shine a wonderful soft green and white with their ladder-like leaves growing up the stems. Like a giant green onion, leeks somehow manage to make it through most winters. You can pull the fleshy, thick stems out of the ground until it’s freezing outside.

Leeks are high in vitamin C, vitamin A and folate, and their flavor is different enough from onions to make them a welcome addition to the vegetable palate of winter. I use winter leeks instead of onion in recipes that call for green onion, and often instead of white or yellow onion.

With leeks, use the bottom half to two-thirds. Reserve the upper, tougher dark green leaves for making low-sodium broth. For this, add the leek leaves, mushrooms, leftover chicken, bay leaf and black peppercorns to a pot of water, and simmer for an hour. Strain and freeze or use in soup right away.

The French call leeks “poor man’s asparagus” because you can cook them the same ways: boiling, steaming or roasting. I like to sauté them with toasted nuts and add them to quiches or stir into pasta.

Let’s not forget the classic, potato leek soup. It is like clam chowder without the clams although, of course, you can add them. Try simmering leeks and potatoes in a slow cooker, and you will come in from a cold winter day to wonderful steaming chowder; serve with crusty whole-grain bread.

Leek and salmon quiche
1 cup crumbled cooked or smoked salmon
1 cup grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese
½ cup leeks, finely chopped
4 eggs
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon tarragon
1 Pillsbury pie shell

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put pie shell in pie pan and flute the edges. Crimp foil around the edge of the crust to keep it from burning. Mix all other ingredients and pour into shell. Bake for 10 minutes, and then lower heat to 325 and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until knife inserted in middle comes out clean. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Serves 8.

Nutritional information:
Calories: 223, Carbohydrates: 13 grams, Protein: 11 grams, Sodium: 324 milligrams

Pasta with caramelized leeks and hazelnuts
3-4 leeks
1 tablespoon butter
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup hazelnuts or walnuts, coarsely chopped
2-4 tablespoons of basil pesto

Cut the leeks into 1-inch pieces — up to where the leaves get tough. Put pasta on to boil. Save the upper dark leaves to add to soup stock. Sauté the leeks and butter in a skillet until transparent. Add the garlic and nuts and continue to sauté until leeks are slightly caramelized. Drain pasta, toss with leek-nut mixture and serve with basil pesto. Serves 4.

Nutritional information:
Calories: 441, Carbohydrates: 57 grams, Protein: 11 grams, Sodium: 85 milligrams

Slow cooker potato leek chowder
5-7 leeks, about 2 pounds, sliced
3 tablespoons butter
5 potatoes, cubed
4 cups homemade low-sodium broth (using leek tops) or canned low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half or yogurt

In slow cooker, add leeks and potatoes to broth. Simmer about eight hours on low setting, until potatoes are very tender. For a chunky soup, add half-and-half and then heat on low for about 30 minutes. For a creamy soup, use an immersion blender to blend the soup, or carefully put soup in food processor or blender and mix until smooth. Return to slow cooker and heat with half-and-half for about 30 minutes. Serves 8.

Nutritional information:
Calories: 226, Carbohydrates: 34 grams, Protein: 6 grams, Sodium: 106 milligrams

The information in this column is meant for people who want to keep their kidneys healthy and blood pressure down by following a low-sodium diet. In most cases, except for dialysis patients, a diet high in potassium is thought to help lower high blood pressure. These recipes are not intended for people on dialysis without the supervision of a registered dietitian.

[Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. A recipient of the Susan Knapp Excellence in Education Award from the National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition, she has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See more of her recipes at www.nwkidney.org.]

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