Wild leeks, commonly known as ramps, are quickly becoming a culinary delicacy in Canada. With a flavour best described as like green onions with a strong garlic smell, wild leeks are used in many springtime recipes like soup and egg dishes, or pickled and used in salads. They can also substitute for onion or garlic in any dish. Wild leeks are a perennial plant that grows in old woods and ravines, so if you are lucky enough to find a growth area, you can keep going back to it year after year as long as the forest stays uncut.
If you are like me, you are a city dweller who craves the country but rarely has a chance to forage for a meal. It is very exciting to see the return of the farmers’ markets all across Canada. Wild leeks are one of the very first local foods available. They are so popular among chefs that you will have to hit the market early to ensure a successful trip.
Five wild facts about wild leeks
1. They protect your heart: Wild leeks are in the same family as garlic and contain the same sulphur compounds, including kaempferol. Kaempferol works to protect the lining of the blood vessels against damage while supporting the liver in cholesterol elimination.
2. They are high in iron: One wild leek contains 10 percent of your RDA of iron for women for the day. Iron transports oxygen to the cells, supports healthy immune function and increases energy levels. Iron replenishment is especially important for women because they experience loss of iron during the menstrual cycle.
3. They help support brain function and development: Wild leeks contain choline, which is a used as a chemical messenger in the brain (neurotransmitter). Adequate amounts of choline in the diet have been shown to support proper cognitive function and facilitate learning in adults and children.
4. They help prevent high blood pressure and stroke: Wild leeks contain folate, which is an essential B vitamin that keeps our bodies levels of homocysteine in check. Homocysteine is a protein found in the blood that contributes to atherosclerosis when it is in high amounts.
5. They are high in antioxidants: Wild leeks have a high total polyphenol content (TPC), which is the way foods are graded on their antioxidant content. They are higher than tomatoes and red bell peppers. These powerful polyphenols are active cancer fighting agents.
Pickled wild leeks
Wild leeks reduce total cholesterol and LDL, the “bad” cholesterol levels. This can be very important for preventing atherosclerosis (artery hardening) and heart disease. Allium vegetables like leeks and garlic have also been shown to lower high blood pressure, another risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
225g (1/2 pound) cleaned wild leeks (ramps)
1 tsp black mustard seed
4 tsp coriander seed
3 tsp fennel seed
1 L apple cider vinegar
500 mL water
2/3 cup honey
1. In a medium saucepan, roast the spices on medium heat until they are fragrant. Add this to the vinegar and water and bring to a boil.
2. Place the wild leeks into a clean container or glass mason jar and pour pickling liquid over them. Cover with a lid and allow them to cool at room temperature.
3. Refrigerate for one week, then use them with everything and anything!
Makes 225 g of pickles
Note: If you go foraging for wild leeks, be sure to check with your local conservation authority as certain areas, especially the province of Quebec, may have laws that protect or limit the amount you can harvest. When collecting wild leeks, harvest no more than 10 percent of an area and take mostly leaves. Though the bulbs are edible (and yummy) leaving them in the ground will ensure that the plants return the following year. The leaves are not unlike garlic-flavoured spinach and are a wonderful addition to soups and stir-fries, or eaten raw in a salad. You can also transplant a few wild leeks into a shady area of your property to have a springtime supply close at hand. Plant them under some maple trees to ensure enough dead leaf coverage to protect the bulbs over winter.
Nutritionist Julie Daniluk hosts Healthy Gourmet, a reality cooking show that looks at the ongoing battle between taste and nutrition. Her soon-to-be-published first book, Meals That Heal Inflammation, advises on allergy-free foods that both taste great and assist the body in the healing process.
For more amazing recipes visit Chatelaine.com’s recipe section.