National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Five ways with leeks


Chef Shaun Hill on getting the best out of this Welsh favourite

The national emblem of Wales has a special place in the nation’s history and cuisine — and it’s also found favour in the kitchens of cutting-edge chefs

There aren’t many vegetables that can pride themselves on being the symbol of a nation. The leek, however, has been intertwine­d with Welsh culture for centuries, and continues to play a key role in the nation’s cuisine.

While domesticat­ed leeks were most likely introduced to the British Isles by the Romans, the finer details of how they became so inextricab­ly linked to Wales are up for debate. One legend says King Cadwaladr ordered his army to put leeks on their helmets in a seventh-century battle; another attributes this to Saint David, a century earlier. Whatever the truth, the tradition persists: on 1 March, Saint David’s Day, Welsh regiments still wear leeks in their cap badges.

As an ingredient, leeks play a pivotal role in Welsh cuisine, cropping up in traditiona­l dishes such as cawl cennin (leek soup), cawl (a traditiona­l stew) and Glamorgan sausages.

“Leeks have always been a symbol of Wales,” says chef Shaun Hill, who runs

The Walnut Tree Inn, a Michelin-starred restaurant near Abergavenn­y. “They grow well here, they’re quite cheap and they’re adaptable. Are they undervalue­d? I think so.”

For Shaun, who works leeks onto the restaurant’s autumn menu, it’s an ingredient that adds a new dimension to dishes. “Generally, it’s a case of ‘leeks and something else’ because you need something to bounce off their mild, oniony flavour,” he explains. “They’re a social vegetable: they do many things, but they don’t stand alone.”

At the Walnut Tree, Shaun combines leeks with mustards or sauces, or adds them to gratins. Here are five more of his suggestion­s.


“Blend leeks with chickpeas to make a soup — it comes up a real treat. Leeks and chickpeas go nicely together and the combinatio­n works beautifull­y with garlic and olive oil.”


“There’s a Welsh hard cheese called Hafod, a type of cheddar, which works very well with poached leeks, a mustardy Worcesters­hire-type sauce and a drop of cream.”


“To add a mild but very distinctiv­e flavour to your mac ’n’ cheese, stir some sliced leeks into the sauce. It brings a whole new dimension to the dish.”


“It’s quite a well-known dish, but you can’t beat a good chicken and leek pie. Poach and cream the leek first, then add the chicken and bake it in puff pastry.”


“Poach leeks in water, then mix them into a mustard dressing and drizzle the mixture over thin slices of bresaola or Parma ham. The leeks bring a new, interestin­g flavour.”

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