Everything You Need to Know About Leeks
Leeks look like a giant green onion and are part of the allium family, along with chives, garlic, onion, and shallots. When raw, the flavour is quite sharp, however, when cooked like onions they mellow and become slightly sweet. Leeks bring a lovely flavour to soup, stir-fries, salads, and a multitude of other dishes. Essentially, you can use them anywhere you would use an onion, only with leeks you get a little something extra special on the table.
Leeks have much to offer in the way of good health and, not unlike garlic, they are believed to reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, while also boosting a body’s anti-cancer and anti-diabetes properties.
The most common leeks are the large one to two-inch thick ones readily available in the grocery store. However, in the spring, you may find wild leeks, otherwise known as ramps, at farmer’s markets or specialty grocery stores. They have long, flat leaves and slender white bulbs that are milder and sweeter than common leeks. Since they’re younger and tenderer than the regular leeks we find in the grocery stores, the greens are edible and can safely be consumed.
How to Select and Store Leeks
Begin by looking for slender, straight leeks that have nice bright leaves and a blemish-free bottom white portion. Take care to avoid ones that are withered or have yellow spots on the leaves. With respect to size, both the small and large leeks are delicious and the only difference between the two is in the cooking time. It’s best to buy leeks as you need them, but if you plan on storing them loosely wrap leeks in a plastic bag and tuck them in the crisper for up to five days.
How to Prepare Leeks
Leeks gradate in colour from white to dark green. Typically, the bottom half, or what’s commonly referred to as the “white to light green part” in recipes, is the most tender. The dark green ends are usually used to flavour stock or are simply discarded.
1) Cleaning Leeks
If you’re using sliced leeks in a recipe, cut the leeks first and then place them in a colander and rinse well under cold water. You may need to drain and rinse a few times until the water runs clear.
The white part of a leek grows underground and as a result a lot of soil and dirt gets trapped between the layers of the leek. Therefore, it’s important to wash them well before use.
If you’re halving your leeks, it’s easy to flush out any dirt by rinsing the cut halves.
If you’re keeping your leeks whole, Simply Recipes has great step-by-step photo instructions on how to clean them. David Lebovitz also slices upward from the middle of the white part of leeks and swirls the leeks around in a basin of water. He also has some great step-by-step photo instructions.
2) Cooking Leeks
- Leeks can be left whole, halved, or sliced. They can also be boiled, broiled, braised, fried, grilled, roasted, or steamed.
- Important to note: if you are cooking whole leeks, the best cooking methods are braising, steaming or grilling.
- Important to Note: 1 pound leeks = 2 cups chopped or 1 cup cooked
3) Freezing Leeks
- Leeks are easy to freeze for future use in soups or stocks. The easiest way is to slice your leeks, and then clean them well and pat dry with a clean dishtowel. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and flash freeze before transferring to an airtight container. Label them well with the date and use within a few months so they don’t get freezer-burn.
- If you’d like to freeze your leeks for a longer period, it is recommended that you blanch them first. To blanch, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. While the water is getting hot, prepare an ice bath for the leeks and set aside. Add your cleaned, sliced leeks to the boiling water and stir to submerge them. Continue blanching until they turn a vibrant green colour. Quickly drain the leeks and plunge immediately into the ice bath to prevent them from overcooking. Drain, pat dry as best you can, and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet to freeze. Once frozen, transfer to an airtight container. Label with the date and use within 4-6 months.
- Here’s a neat trick: plant a leek bulb in a pot, keep it moist and place in the sun. It will produce green leek shoots that can be snipped and used just as you would chives.
- The tougher green ends of a leek can be used to flavour soups; just wash well and secure in a cheesecloth bag while the soup is cooking.
- Simmer sliced leeks in vegetable, chicken, or beef broth to add extra flavour.
- Sauté leeks and add them to a quiche, omelette, or frittata.
- To get the mellowed sweet flavour of leeks, sauté them with a bit of butter and let them cook down until they look “melted”. This preparation produces a slightly sweet flavour that is delicious in any dish.
Leeks Go Well With
- Dairy: butter, cheese (Gruyere, Parmesan, and goat), cream
- Spices & Herbs: thyme, tarragon, chives, garlic, mustard, and sage
- Vegetables: carrot, potato, and mushrooms
- Savoury: chicken, fish, eggs, sausage, lentils, pork (especially bacon), and rice
Leek Serving Ideas
- Leeks are delicious when added to breakfast dishes like quiche, frittata, or omelettes.
- Try an Asian-inspired recipe by making these leek and green pea savoury pancakes! They are super simple to make and so delicious!
- Try adding leeks to casseroles, soups, stews, or even rice-based dishes like stir-fry or risotto.
- Leeks are a delicious alternative to onions in savoury dishes like pot pies.
- This creamy pappardelle with leeks and bacon is a simple twist on carbonara and perfect for weeknight dinners.
- Braised leekscan serve as an unexpected yet simple side dish for a holiday or celebratory dinner.
- Savoury tarts should be a staple, and this leek and potato galette with pistachio crust is perfect for fall.
- Seemingly sophisticated, yet surprisingly simple to make, these creamy leek and mushroom vol au vents are a classic party appetizer (or light meal) that are irresistibly delicious.
According to the Canadian Nutrient File, 100 g of cooked leeks contains 11% of folate, 8% of iron, 7% of vitamin C, 6% of vitamin B6, 6% of magnesium, 4% of fibre (1 g), and 925 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin (antioxidants).