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Wilburn: Leeks, scallions share family, taste

POSTED: March 25, 2009 1:00 a.m.

Spring is just around the corner, so let's focus on two often forgotten members of the onion family - leeks and green onions (scallions).

Leeks and green onions look similar; they both have bulbous ends, fringed roots and long leaves. These vegetables have an established food history, with usage from European to Asian cuisines, thus illustrating their versatile nature.

Leeks

Leeks look like a giant scallion and are related to both garlic and the onion. Native to he Mediterranean region, this vegetable dates back to around 4,000 B.C. Although its flavor and fragrance are similar to its relatives, they are slightly sweet tasting and often served as a side dish. A 1/2-cup serving of leeks has only 25 calories but provides 15 percent of the daily value of Vitamin A, 8 percent of Vitamin C and 6 percent iron.

Leeks are found in markets throughout the year, with a peak during fall to early spring. Select leeks with clean, white bottoms making sure that the ends are straight and not larger than 1 1/2 inches in diameter, otherwise they will have a tough texture. The tops should be green, crisp and fresh-looking. Small to medium leeks (less than 1 1/2 inches in diameter) are the most tender.

Refrigerate leeks, unwashed, in a loosely fitting plastic bag for up to one week. Storing leeks in plastic helps them hold onto moisture and keeps the odor from spreading to other foods.

Leeks carry some dirt, especially in between the layer of overlapping leaves. Begin cleaning by removing discolored leaves and trimming off green tops and root tips. Cut the leek lengthwise by inserting a knife from the base. Spread the leaves and rinse thoroughly. Placing the fanned out leaves in a bowl of water and gently moving the leaves will loosen any remaining dirt.

Leeks make excellent side dishes and appetizers, but can also be added to many entrees including soups, stews, quiches and salads. This delicate vegetable cooks quickly, and overcooking them will result in a slimy and soft product. In addition, they store heat well and will continue to cook even after the heat source is removed.

Green onions/scallions

Green onions or scallions are immature onions. Scallions are harvested while their tops are still green and before the bulb takes its full shape. Green onions can be eaten raw or cooked and have a milder flavor than their onion relative.

A 25 g serving provides only 10 calories and has 8 percent of the daily value of Vitamin C.

Purchase only green crisp tops and white bottoms. In general, the more slender bottoms will have a sweeter taste.

Scallions wilt within a couple of days, so it's best to use them immediately. However, if you must store them, refrigerate them in a tightly closed plastic bag up to one week.

Rinse the scallions thoroughly as dirt may be lodged between the leaves. Trim any wilted parts and the tip of the white root..

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.



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