No, they aren’t the ire of every homeowner, they are a delicious vegetable that is just as versatile as their bulbous cousins, if not more so. Leeks are a great crop that is typically found fresh at your local farmers markets and food co-ops starting in late summer and lasting well into winter. They are typically available at grocery stores all year round, but finding them fresh is definitely best. Out-of-season leeks at supermarkets always seem to be gigantic and have very little flavor, so try to find them locally if you can. There are also farms that will overwinter leeks for a delicious early spring offering that’s available around the same as asparagus and radishes. So when May comes around and your outdoor market opens up, make sure to keep your eye out for them.
There really isn’t much you can’t do with leeks, especially because their flavor is so delicate yet distinctive. I use leeks whenever I can, especially in combination with regular onions or in place of their more pungent counterparts. I also use leeks with reckless abandon when I just want a subtle hint of “onion,” which is all the time. Now, leeks do take some getting used to if you’ve never cooked with them before, but I suggest trying them out for a test drive. Maybe check out one of the recipes below, and see what you can do with them. One of the best parts about leeks is that they’ll never make you cry; unless you mess up the dish and then it’s sort of your fault.
Did you know…
Milder than onions, leeks rarely (if ever) make you cry while cutting them. One trick that usually works for onions though is to put them in the refrigerator for a while before you cut them to decrease the crying that can ensue. Leeks are one of the national emblems of Wales along with the daffodil. The white stem/stalk is not “naturally” white. The white, tender section of a leek is due to being blanched which occurs when soil is mounded up around the leek as it grows, a technique called trenching. In this process, the leeks don’t see sunlight so they don’t turn green.
Leeks are an excellent source of vitamin K, and a good source of vitamin B6, folate, vitamin C, copper, iron, manganese, and vitamin A. Leeks are very low in saturated fats and cholesterol and low in sodium.
Buying & Storing
When buying leeks, make sure to look for ones that have long, firm, white stems. Sometimes you’ll find leeks with all of the long, green leaves still attached, sometimes they’ll be trimmed down. If you want to use your remaining parts for stock then try to hunt for leeks with the long leaves since you can cut them up and add them to stock instead of wasting them. You also might find leeks with their roots removed. This isn’t terribly common, but if you buy leeks with the root base removed (i.e. you can see the leeks rings on the bottom) just know that you’ll need to use them faster as they won’t hold up as long.
Refrigerate leeks unwashed and dry, with roots still attached, for up to 2 weeks. You can lightly wrap them in plastic to avoid aromas spreading to other foods. Damp paper towels can also be used but they won’t be as effective in preventing the spread of odor. For longer-term storage, leeks can be buried in moist sand and kept in a cool, but not freezing, location. Leeks can also be pureed and frozen for later use in soups and sauces.
Remove green tops to within 2-3 inches of the white/light green section of the base. Depending on how you’re preparing the leeks you can leave more, but this will come down to personal preference. Peel off and discard the outside layer/leaf and make sure to rinse any dirt out of the upper creases where the leaves part from the stalk. If you are preparing the leeks as halves, cut them in half lengthwise and thoroughly rinse under cold water to remove grit and soil between the layers. Make sure to hold the layers together, otherwise, they’ll slip apart while you’re rinsing them. If you are planning to slice the leeks for a dish, you can leave the stalk whole or cut it in half, slice the leek as desired, and then rinse the slices in a colander under cold water as you break sections apart and remove any dirt.
Whether raw or cooked, leeks can be a substitute for onions in any dish, or combined with onions for a more dynamic flavor. Add to soups, stocks, stir-fries, or long-cooking dishes such as grains, beans, or stews for added flavor.
Stock: save the dark green leaves and add them to stock. The dark green sections of the leaves are edible but they can be tough unless you thoroughly sauté them.
Raw: slice or chop leeks and add to a variety of salads, pasta salads, or sandwiches. Add them as a garnish to soups, egg dishes, fish, and potatoes.
Pureeing: puree raw or cooked leeks for a soup base. It is excellent in cold soups as well as hot soups and stews.
Roasting: cut leeks in half lengthwise and place the sliced side down in a baking dish. Drizzle the leeks with olive oil or place a pat of butter on each one and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and fresh thyme. Cover with foil and bake at 300°F for 1 hour, then remove the foil, carefully flip the halved leeks, and bake uncovered at 400°F for 15-20 minutes until they start to brown and/or carmelize.
Sautéing: toss chopped or sliced leeks with olive oil, salt, and pepper and sauté over high heat until softened or caramelized. Add to quiche, mashed potatoes, egg dishes, or burgers/paninis.