From cleaning, cutting, and learning how to cook leeks to choosing the type to suit your taste, here is everything you need to know!
What are leeks?
You may think they look like giant green onions, or you may have no clue what on earth these veggies are. Well, they’re leeks, and they are the bomb! (You may have even enjoyed them in my Brussels Sprouts Latkes with Dijon Yogurt Sauce.)
But… what are they, really?
Leeks come from the onion, garlic, and shallot family (shout out alliums), and they are actually similar to green onions. Those with the giant green onion thought aren’t too far off! However, their flavor is a bit milder, and they actually have subtle sweet undertones.
The white and light green parts are typically eaten while the darkest ends of the stems are discarded. Though the ends are edible, their bitter flavor often gives them the garbage treatment, leaving the rest to be enjoyed in soup, pasta, stir fry, and so much more.
How to cut leeks
Step 1: Trim The Ends
To cut leeks, start by trimming off the darkest part of the stems. This area has a bitter flavor, and most prefer to omit it from their recipes. After trimming off the ends, do the same with the root.
Step 2: Halve
Next, slice the leek down the center, creating two halves that are flat on one of the sides.
Step 3: Slice
Place the flat side down, and chop into thin strips. One chopped, separate with your fingers and place into a bowl of water to soak.
How to clean leeks
Because leeks grow in the soil and have loads of layers, they’re often packed with dirt and will need a thorough cleaning.
It’s easiest to clean them after chopping. Just throw your chopped leeks into a bowl of water and squish them around. After a few minutes, thoroughly rinse all of the pieces by rubbing the dirt off.
You can give them a final good rinse-over by placing in a mesh strainer and running under the water, mixing them around as you do to be sure that the water hits and rinses off each piece.
How to cook Leeks
Now for the easy part… how to cook leeks! Leeks can be cooked in a few different ways. Whether you sauté, grill, or roast them, you’re in for a lot of flavor.
- Sauté: This is likely the most common method as it is the easiest! Just toss the leeks on a skillet with a bit of oil or butter (and with or without other veggies). Let them cook until soft, stirring often.
- Roast: Love a good roasted veggie platter? Me too. Next time, include leeks! These cook well in the oven and do best at a high heat (like 425°F or 218°C). Full guide to roasted leeks here.
- Grill: Leeks can be grilled like any other veggie. Do so with the leek halves, and grill until charred to your taste.
- Simmer: If making a soup, throw in leeks for loads of flavor. I recommend softening the leeks first (with butter or oil) before adding the rest of the soup ingredients. Then, let them simmer alongside everything else!
Varieties & seasonality
You probably see leeks in your grocery store year round, but they’re the best during the late winter to early summer. And because most veggies have so many varieties (onions or peppers, for example), you may be surprised to learn that there are really only two main types of leeks: those harvested in the early season, and those harvested in the late season.
Early season leeks are usually smaller in size and have a more subtle flavor. Late season leeks are larger, darker, and more potent in flavor. Each type encompasses multiple “strains” of leeks (i.e. Columbus or Varna leeks in early season, and Titan and Bandit in late season).
Uncut leeks should be kept in the refrigerator, preferably in the crisper. Keeping them in their produce bag is best, and they should stay good for about two weeks.
If already cut, place leftovers in an airtight container in the crisper. Cook and enjoy within a couple of days.
The great thing about leeks is that since they’re a part of the onion/garlic/shallot fam, you can use so many different ingredients in their place if need be. So if you find yourself out of leeks, just pop spring onions, shallots, green onions, or chopped white onion into the recipe.
What to make with leeks
Wondering what leeks are good for? Well, pretty much everything. From soup and roasted veggies to latkes and even stuffing, you can use leeks in all sorts of recipes! Though these recipes don’t contain leeks, you can definitely add them for intense, incredible flavor.