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Leeks can add a subtle, onion-y flavor to dishes.

There are many choices when it comes to bringing an onion flavor to your dish: red, white and yellow onions; scallions; shallots; chives; and leeks all bring a different intensity of flavor. Leeks have a milder taste and resemble an over-sized scallion. The stalk is a bundle of leaf sheaths, which are white on the bottom and green on top. Use the white and lighter green area for recipes, and save the darker green sheaths for making stock.

Leek’s interweaving leaves can make it difficult to clean. First, trim off the roots and darker tops. Cut the leek stalk in half, and then cut both sections right down the middle, lengthwise. Fill a baking dish with cold water and submerge the leeks. The leeks will float while the dirt sinks to the bottom. Finally, slice according to the recipe.

Leeks are widely used in soups and stews, but their subtle flavor allows them to stand alone either raw or cooked. Simply steam, sauté, roast or braise and serve alongside chicken or fish. Leeks can also be the star in a cheesy casserole or quiche. Leeks don’t freeze well, so store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or up to two days if they are already cooked. They are a good source of iron and vitamins A, C and B6. There’s not much to not like about leeks. Start including them in your onion repertoire!

Leek and Mushroom Orzo

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups leeks, rinsed and chopped, white and pale green parts only

2 cups cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 cup dry orzo

2 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1½ cups chopped tomato

3 tablespoons light cream cheese

1 teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper

In a medium skillet, heat olive oil. Add leeks and sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are soft, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the orzo and toast lightly, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the orzo is almost tender, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer until orzo is tender, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream cheese, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Yield: 8 servings

Source: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Nutrition facts (per serving): 150 calories, 3 grams fat, 125 milligrams sodium, 24 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams protein

Smith, a registered dietitian, is a nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306.

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