Locally sourced, freshly picked vegetables not only taste better, they're nicer to the environment and quite often a wee bit cheaper too. So here are our tastiest recipes and top tips on how to make the most of leeks and cabbages this season...
These are popular in spring; packed with antioxidants and vitamins they can also help prevent colds. Leeks are a member of the allium family (Like garlic and onion). Whilst they can be a little harsh when raw (very young leeks are delicious eaten this way), when cooked they are very delicate, like a mild onion but with a hint of sweetness.
Leeks are very versatile and work well cooked in various recipes or as a side dish. Two of the world's most famous soups, Scotland's cock-a-leekie and France's crème vichyssoise, are based around them.
Thorough washing is very important for leeks, as soil is often trapped between the many layers of leaves. First, trim off the base, and cut away the uppermost part of the leaves. If it's tough, remove the outer layer or while. Then, if you want to keep the leek whole, use a knife to make a slit from the top to the point where the green meets the white, cutting through the centre. Rinse well under running water, pulling back the layers so that any dirt at the base is removed. Alternatively, slice the leeks, then put in a colander and wash well under running water. Store them in the fridge, for up to a week. As their strong aroma can taint other foods, make sure they are well wrapped.
There are a few ways to cook them. Steam (up to 8 minutes for sliced; up to 16 minutes for whole). Pan fry (up to 8 minutes, sliced). They are also good as an ingredient in casseroles, tarts, pies and soups. Young leeks are good in soups and they are lovely sauteed with a poached egg.
Leeks contain important amounts of the flavonoid kaempferol, which has repeatedly been shown to help protect our blood vessel linings from damage, including damage by overly reactive oxygen molecules. Often overlooked in leeks is their important concentration of the B vitamin folate. Folate is present in leeks in one of its bioactive forms (5MTHF) and it is present throughout the plant). While it's true that we still get about 50% more 5MTHF from the bulb than the leaves, this distribution of folate throughout the plant makes leeks a cardioprotective food from top to bottom. (Folate is a key B complex vitamin for supporting our cardiovascular system, because it helps keep our levels of homocysteine in proper balance. Excessively high levels of homocysteine are a risk factor for many cardiovascular diseases).
Also present in leeks are impressive concentrations of antioxidant polyphenols. These polyphenols play a direct role in protecting our blood vessels and blood cells from oxidative damage. The total polyphenol content (TPC) of leeks averages about 33 milligrams of gallic acid equivalents (GAE) per 100 grams of fresh edible portion (FEP). By contrast, the TPC of red bell peppers averages 27 milligrams; cherry tomatoes, 24 milligrams; and carrots, 10 milligrams. So even though leeks are less concentrated than some of their fellow allium vegetables in terms of total polyphenols (garlic provides about 59 milligrams GAE/100g FEP, and onions provide about 76 milligrams), they are still a highly valuable food in terms of these phytonutrient antioxidants and provide us with important cardiovascular benefits for this reason.
For loose-leaved varieties, remove old or damaged outer leaves, cut the leaves free of the core and slice out any tough central stalks. Rinse if necessary, then chop or slice. For tightly-packaged cabbages, strip the outer leaves in the same way, wash, then slice into quarters, cut out the hard central core on each one, then chop or shred. When cooking red cabbage, add a little vinegar to the water to stop the colour running. Boils in 4-6 minutes; steams in 4-8 minutes; stir fries in 2-4 minutes.
Cabbage can provide you with some special cholesterol-lowering benefits if you steam it or eat it raw. The fibre-related components in cabbage do a better job of binding together with bile acids in your digestive tract when they've been steamed. When this binding process takes place, it's easier for bile acids to be excreted, and the result is a lowering of your cholesterol levels. Raw cabbage still has cholesterol-lowering ability-just not as much as steamed cabbage. Cabbage in general (particularly Savoy) turns out to be an especially good source of sinigrin. Sinigrin is one of the cabbage glucosinolates that has received special attention in cancer prevention research. The sinigrin in cabbage can be converted into allyl-isothiocyanate, or AITC. This isothiocyanate compound has shown unique cancer preventive properties with respect to bladder cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer.
In one recent study, short-cooked and raw cabbage were the only types of cabbage to show cancer-preventive benefits-long-cooked cabbage failed to demonstrate measurable benefits.
New research shows that steaming is a better cooking method than microwaving if you want to maximise the health benefits of glucosinolates found in cabbage. That's because two minutes of microwaving destroys the same amount of myrosinase enzymes as seven minutes of steaming, and you need those myrosinase enzymes to help convert cabbage's glucosinolates into cancer-preventive compounds.
No matter what diet you're following, whether it's raw food
, gluten-free, weight reduction, low GI or simply "see food, and eat it", you are always advised to get some leafy greens into your diet. Here's a link to an article on loving greens
with some suggestions of other greens to introduce into your diet.