Saturday, May 1, 2010
Wild Leeks - a year of food by the season
The wild leeks growing on my property have been large enough to eat for a few weeks. Not as big as a store green onion but large enough. If you live up north just about when you see your first black fly it should reminded you that the wild leeks are probably large enough. We just finished some delicious wild leek, potato and lovage soup this afternoon in a cooking class. A real delight.
Where I live we call them wild leeks (allium tricoccum) but people also refer to them as wild garlic or ramps. I am not an expert on other wild leeks/ramps/garlic - there probably is a lot of variation depending on where you live. I know they catch a big price in the city! They are a type of wild onion with a bold flavour similar to that of garlic and onion and they are for sure one of my favourite spring foods from the wild. Wild leeks are part of the lily family and you can see this when you look at the leaves above.
In my area I notice that they like deciduous woods that receive dappled light. The biggest leeks seem to grow near spring streams and running water. Around here they come up late April and are usually plentiful until the end of May. The photo shows some wild leeks I have transplanted onto my property a few years ago. They keep dividing and every year I also add more new plants. It has been so hot and dry lately that they are already receeding. The foliage dwindles but the bulbs are still there to eat.
Foraging is a hot topic and "Canadian Living" magazine last year came out with an edible wild spring greens section with some good recipes in their May issue. The link below takes you to their important tips for safely foraging for wild edibles.
Leaves: garlicky onion flavour. Tear by hand or slice into strips.
Bulbs: slice like green onion or leek bulbs.
Below I put a good size bulb end against a pen so you can see the size. There is a bit of a spot on my camera lense as I left it out in the garden one night by accident :)
Cleaning wild leeks is a bit of a chore but worth the effort. I wash them under cold running water and then I remove the outer soft layer and the very end with the roots.
The leaves and bulb can be eaten raw like green onions. Once picked they will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. Eat them sauteed with some butter or olive oil as a vegetable on their own. I know they work well in mashed or boiled potatoes, pesto, pasta dishes, soups, stews and stir fries. Pickled wild leeks are a delicacy for many people but I have yet to try them. I posted a recipe last spring for Maple Dijon Vinaigrette that is best made with wild leeks so you may want to try it. If you don't have wild leeks make this delicious vinaigrette with green onions.
Freezing: Place clean leeks in suitable bags and freeze. Some people blanch and then freeze the leeks but in my experience this isn't a necessary step as long as you have carefully cleaned them under lots of cold running water. You can also gently saute the sliced leaves and bulb with butter or olive oil and freeze for later use.
© Nancy Guppy, RD, MHSc