WHILE many Welshmen will wear a daffodil to celebrate St David's Day, which falls on Saturday, March 1, some will commemorate the day by eating leek soup, or one of the many dishes which call for this ancient and nutritious vegetable to be added to the pot.

Known as the poor man's asparagus, leeks, which have been cultivated since the time of the Ancient Egyptians, have been a British culinary staple for generations as they are available nearly all the year round. The British leek season launches in September, peaking again in the spring.

Leeks are certainly a firm favourite with allotment holders and gardeners because they can withstand cold weather.

The leek is known to have been displayed as a Welsh emblem in the Middle Ages According to an old legend, King Cadwallader ordered his Welsh soldiers to identify themselves by wearing this vegetable on their helmets during an ancient battle against the Saxons, which took place in a leek field The leek was credited with extraordinary qualities when St David was alive As a member of the Allium vegetable family, leeks contain most of the valuable compounds found in garlic and onions. Today nutritionists praise them for the amount of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamins A and D and the dietary fibre that they contain Leeks are a useful ingredient in many savoury dishes as they provide subtle flavours that are not as overpowering as other vegetables in the Allium family When buying leeks, look for ones that are straight, firm and intact. Ignore those with browning outer layers Before you start cooking with leeks, they must be washed thoroughly to remove any grit or dirt If storing them, they keep best if wrapped in a plastic bag and stored in the vegetable crisper to avoid their rather strong aroma permeating the store room or fridge One of the easiest ways to make a nutritious leek and potato soup is to cut equal amounts of leek and potato into very small thin squares the size of your little finger nail, which are then placed in the pot with seasoning, a few herbs, vegetable bouillon powder and hot water, and cooked gently until the vegetables are soft, which only takes about ten minutes Cold cooked leeks can be enhanced with balsamic vinegar and fresh tarragon, and marinaded overnight. Served this way, they make a tasty winter salad. They also taste great if cooked gently in a little olive oil and served sprinkled with chopped fresh herbs Look out for freshly harvested leeks at your farmers' market and add them to all your stews and casseroles, or turn them into a delicious leek and potato pie.