Leeks are a member of the onion (or Allium) family.
They are a tender, bulbous vegetable with leafy green tops and fleshy white bulbs that are not exactly round.
The older the leek, the more rounded its bulb. At a glance, leeks look like giant green onions or scallions.
These vegetables are native to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries with Turkey, Belgium, France, and Korea being its largest producers.
Leeks are more expensive than other onion varieties, especially in places where they are not very common.
They are not very widely used in the US but those who love the mild, more delicate taste of leeks prefer them over onions.
In the UK, however, they are one a staple ingredient in everyday cooking.
In this article, we’re going to give you an overview of everything you need to know about using this delicious vegetable. So, let’s begin:
Once they’re home from the market, you need to store leeks in the refrigerator.
They can be kept whole, chilled and unwashed for up to 5-10 days. However, make sure you don’t cut them before keeping them in the refrigerator.
It’s ideal to loosely wrap them in cloth produce bags and keep them in the fridge.
This is because leeks have an intense smell that can transfer to other items in your refrigerator, but you still want them to have access to air.
Trapped condensation can cause fresh produce like leeks to mold much more quickly than if they have air circulation.
So, keeping them covered and inside the vegetable drawer will not only protect other food items but also help retain the flavor and aroma of the leeks.
Cooked leeks should be covered tightly, refrigerated, and used within 1 to 2 days.
It’s not a good idea to freeze your leeks unless you’re going to use them in soup recipes. When frozen, they can turn mushy and slightly bitter in taste.
If you do want to freeze them, however, you can slice them and store them in airtight freezer bags with or without blanching.
Use frozen leeks within 3 months.
How to Cook with Leeks
Leeks can be included in a wide variety of dishes, replacing onions.
Unlike many round onions, leeks won’t make you cry when you cut into them!
You can boil, braise, fry, steam, or roast them.
They can be used in preparing soups, stocks, and casseroles.
Leeks can also be roasted as whole or sliced and used in any roasted vegetable recipe for added flavor and texture.
You can also serve them as sides for cooked meats.
Just like onions, leeks can be sautéed in olive oil or butter and even caramelized.
Caramelized leeks make a flavorful topping for a wide range of recipes, including hamburgers.
Try our recipe for Chicken, Kale and Leek Casserole. It’s flavorful!
Fried leeks can serve as the building block or base for Mediterranean and Asian dishes.
Be careful about not overcooking them though as they can turn slimy or mushy.
They should just be softened enough so that you can pierce them with a fork.
Raw leeks can provide a nice crunch to salads and work as garnishes for soups, meat, and roasted vegetables.
They pair really well with sweet bell peppers and apples in salads.
For more recipe ideas that use leeks, come see our list.
What Do Leeks Taste Like?
Leeks have a very similar taste like that of onions but it’s less intense, delicate, and slightly sweet.
Raw leeks are fibrous, crunchy, and firm.
When fried, the crunchiness is intensified.
Braising and boiling makes them softer and even milder in taste.
How to Pick Out Leeks
When you’re choosing leeks at the market, check that they are firm and straight with white bases and dark green leaves.
The bulbs should not be cracked or bruised as they can make ideal breeding grounds for bacteria.
That said, if you see dirt on the leeks, that’s perfectly normal.
Fresh leeks have a tendency to hold dirt and need to be washed carefully before eating.
Bulbs that are not shiny and show a yellowish tint are indicators that the leek is old.
The leaves of the leek should not show signs of wilting or browning.
Since thicker leeks are more fibrous, it’s better if you pick the ones with diameters of less than 1.5 inches.
Always buy freshest looking, uncut, raw leeks since trimming shortens their shelf life.
That said, if you like to have them on hand, you can buy freeze dried leek slices to keep in your pantry.
What Is the Difference Between a Leek and a Green Onion?
When you’re choosing leeks at the market, check that they are firm and straight with white bases and dark green.
Leeks and green onions (or scallions) look very similar to their white bulbs extending to form leafy green tops.
However, green onions are much thinner and smaller than leeks.
Leeks, on the other hand, are significantly larger in size and you can’t mistake the two in their whole form.
When it comes to taste, green onions have a sharper, bolder flavor with slight bitter notes. Leeks feature a mild and sweeter taste.
Unlike leeks, green onions are mostly added to freshly cooked dishes or just stir-fried.
Want to learn some other substitutes for leeks? We have a list here for you.
How to Cut Leeks
Cutting leeks is a lot like cutting scallions.
Here we will walk through the step-by-step instructions on cutting leeks.
- Take a sharp knife and cut off the root end of the white bulb. Similarly, you can chop off the very dark tops.
- Next, you can cut the remaining white and light green portion of the leek lengthwise into halves or quarters.
- You can further cut the halves into smaller slices, horizontally. Similarly, you can fine-cut the quarters if the recipe calls for chopped leeks.
- If you prefer leeks cut in the shapes of small discs, you can skip the second step and simply cut them cross-wise.
Washing the leeks is also very important as they grow in soil and can carry quite a bit of trapped dirt.
While you can wash them thoroughly before cutting, it’s better to do the washing after they are cut, sliced, or chopped.
This way all the dirt is properly removed.
Just put the cut leeks in a large colander and massage the leaves under lukewarm running water.
If washing while whole, pull apart the leaves to remove all dirt and grit.
The bottom line
Now that you know ‘what are leeks’ and how to cook them, you should be ready to try your hand at cooking with this flavorful veggie.
We would love to hear about how you used leeks in your recipes and how they turned out.
Want to learn even more about different kinds of onions? Sure, you do!
How to cut leeks
This is an easy way to cut leeks and wash leeks.
- 1 leek
- First, cut off the root end of the leek. Cut off the root and about 1” from the root to get rid of any stringy ends.
- Discard the root ends.
- Next, cut off the dark green tops. The goal is to only have the light green portion of the leek remaining at the top.
- Discard the dark green tops.
- Cut the leeks into half-moon shapes or your desired shape for your meal.
- Place the cut pieces in a strainer.
- Rinse and massage the cut leek pieces with lukewarm water to remove any dirt.