Leeks are a wildly underrated allium if you ask me. Onions, garlic, and shallots get a lot of the allium glory, and rightfully so. Garlic and onions belong in everything in my personal opinion. But leeks are unfairly overlooked in the produce section, and they can be used for a lot more than the go-to of a potato leek soup! If you’ve been curious about cooking with leeks, here’s a quick and simple guide to get started.
When To Buy Leeks
You can find leeks in the grocery store year-round, but they’re technically in season in most places in late winter and early spring. When selecting leeks in the produce section, search for leeks that look and feel firm and are not wilting. Their bulbs should be white and not yellowing.
How To Prepare Leeks Before Cooking
Leeks admittedly need a little more prep work than onions, which you can just peel n go. Gritty soil and sand gets stuck between their leaves. Don’t worry! This is true of literally all leeks! It’s impossible to find perfectly clean leeks in the grocery store! They’re super easy to clean though. Give them a good rinse in water while still whole, and then slice the leeks vertically/lengthwise from end to end. Rinse the sliced leeks thoroughly, using your fingers to let water into the folds. If you’re using a recipe that calls for chopped leeks, you can chop them after slicing them lengthwise and rinse them in a bowl of cold water for an even more intense washing, but it isn’t totally necessary! You’ll be able to see and feel dirt right away, which makes removal straightforward.
What Part of the Leek To Cook
Contrary to popular belief, you can use every part of the leek — even the roots, though most recipes will have you remove the stringy roots. The most balanced flavor can be found in the white parts of the leek. As you move up the leek from those white bulbs to the dark green leaves, the taste will become more tough texturally and can be bitter. Focus on the white parts and the light green parts. But definitely don’t trash the dark green parts if you’re trying to minimize food waste. I’ve had success slow-cooking the dark green parts in stews or with beans, liquid and slow and low heat eventually breaking them down to make them a bit softer in flavor and texture. They can also be used for stock.
What To Cook With Leeks
You can definitely go classic with a potato leek soup, which is perhaps what leeks are most widely associate with. There are plenty of other vegetarian dish leek options you can venture out into though, like a leek and mushroom quiche, creamy beans with leeks, or a leek tart. Leeks also pair well with meats, and I like introducing them to smokey dishes. Leeks and bacon are a classic combo. A creamy leek sauce is perfect for topping fish or mashed potatoes. Leeks are good for breakfast, too. Try them on toast or in a hash. They’re also great for curry; leeks and potatoes are indeed an iconic duo.
But sometimes, I just like to serve leeks as a simple side, and for that you really just need a simple combination of fat and salt. Cook the leeks down in some fat like butter, spicy olive oil, or bacon fat, perhaps add a bit of broth or braising liquid from your main dish for added flavor, and season to taste with anything from soy sauce to garlic salt. They’ll taste good on their own or as a bright topping on your protein.
You can even just try substituting leeks for onions with one of your go-to recipes. Try it out! Step outside your allium comfort zone!
Do you have a favorite way to eat leeks?