How to Clean Leeks

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A step-by-step guide for how to prepare and clean leeks for cooking whole or sliced. Learn about the nutritional benefits and how this plant can enhance the flavor of dishes.

Three partially cleaned leeks on kitchen towel

When it comes to home cooking, leeks haven’t exactly gotten the fairest shake, often being relegated to a bowl of soup at best. Since leeks are at their prime from October to May with their pinnacle in January, this puts us smack in the middle of leek season–the perfect time to do a deep dive.

If leeks make you think of onions, you’re on the right path. Almost any recipe that calls for onions can be made sweeter by substituting leeks in a similar ratio. Leeks are part of the allium family, which means they offer properties similar to garlic and onions. You’d never eat leeks raw, as they have quite a harsh flavor. But cooking is a whole other story–they become ultra-soft and sweet with a mild onion tang.

How to Clean Leeks

The anatomy of a leek includes the bottom ⅔, which are white and firm and make up the part that’s commonly eaten. The top third is dark green leaves which are discarded typically.

STEP 1: Trim the Roots

Knife cutting the roots off a leek

Carefully trim off the roots of the leek, you want the white parts to stay intact. There’s lots of dirt harbored at the bottom, so it’s best to remove the base first.

STEP 2: Wash the Dark Green Leaves

Spreading the dark green leaves on the top of a leek

Cleaning is an essential part of cooking with leeks since dirt gets into the crevices of the leaves quite easily. Cut a slit about 2 inches through the dark greens leaves, from when the dark green parts start to turn light green. Fan open the leaves to expose the interior. Vigorously rinse the leaves under running water until all of the dirt is removed.

STEP 3: Trim and Cut

Knife cutting and slicing a leek on a white background

To prepare whole leeks, cut away the very tops of the leaves removing the dark parts, but leaving about 1 inch of the leaves on top. Run a knife down the center of the dark green region until you have two halves.

A leek split down the middle into two pieces

At this point, the whole leeks are ready to be cooked. If you find the base extra tough, feel free to peel off a few layers until it becomes more fleshy. If there is still dirt on the inside of the leeks, rinse under running water.

STEP 4: Slice, Wash, and Rinse

Slicing and washing leeks in a glass bowl of water

When preparing leeks for soups, stews or other dishes where smaller pieces are required, slice the leeks into rings or long strips. Do this step once the white and light green parts have been cut down the center as shown in step 3, you can skip step 2.

Submerge the sliced leeks in a bowl of cold water, swishing back and forth. Transfer the leeks to a colander and give it one final rinse. Dry the leeks in between paper towels or with a salad spinner before use.

Cooking With Leeks

Leeks have a variety of uses in cooking, whether as an accent or the main event. Cutting them into thin strips and pan-frying in a small amount of oil creates crispy pieces that make a great addition to pasta, risotto, steak, soups, fish or almost anything that needs a hint of sweet, savory and crunch.

Or consider halving the leeks and braising in chicken broth with either butter or olive oil until tender and serving as a side. Chopped leeks are great when simmered in soup or added as an ingredient to risotto or pilaf, especially when paired with other greens. Or, do as they do in Barcelona, and roast them with a romesco dipping sauce made of red pepper, hazelnut, garlic, and almonds.

Whole leeks and sliced leeks on a cutting board

Storing

Store fresh leeks unwashed and untrimmed in the refrigerator, where they should keep for around 1 to 2 weeks. Storing them in perforated or loosely wrapped plastic will help them to retain moisture, the same as many other vegetables. Freezing leeks is also an option once cut and cleaned.

Nutritional Benefits

In addition to their varied uses and mild flavor profile, leeks are also a good source of nutrition. They are high in vitamin K, manganese, vitamin B6, copper, iron, folate, and vitamin C. Being in the allium family, along with garlic and onions, it shares many of the same benefits– like heart-healthy, anti-cancer, and anti-diabetes properties and compounds.

Recipes to try

How to Clean Leeks

A step-by-step guide for how to prepare and clean leeks for cooking whole or sliced into smaller pieces. 
5 from 8 votes
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time0 minutes
Total Time10 minutes
Servings 2 cups
Course Condiment
Cuisine American

Ingredients  

  • 2 large leeks, or 3 medium

Instructions 

Whole Leeks

  • Use a chef's knife to carefully trim off the roots of the leek, keeping the white part intact.
  • Cut a slit about 2 inches through the dark greens leaves, from when the dark green parts start to turn light green.
  • Fan open the leaves to expose the interior and rinse the dark green leaves under running water until all of the dirt is removed.
  • Cut the tops of the leaves removing the dark parts, leaving about 1-inch of the leaves on top.
  • Slice the leek down the center from the dark green part to the white root end. Rinse if there is still dirt inside. Leeks are now ready to cook whole.

Sliced Leeks

  • Use a chef's knife to carefully trim off the roots of the leek, keeping the white part intact.
  • Cut off the dark green parts. Cut the leek in half lentghwise.
  • Slice the leek into rings or long strips to the desired thickeness.
  • Place leeks in a medium sized bowl filled with cold water. Swish in the water until the dirt is removed.
  • Transfer to a colander and rinse with cool running water.
  • Dry between paper towels or with a salad spinner. Sliced leeks are now ready to use.

Equipment

Notes

  • 2 large leeks or 3 medium yields about 2 cups (179g) of sliced leeks.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 2 cups
Calories 54kcal (3%)Carbohydrates 13g (4%)Protein 1g (2%)Fat 0.3gSaturated Fat 0.04gPolyunsaturated Fat 0.1gMonounsaturated Fat 0.004gSodium 18mg (1%)Potassium 160mg (5%)Fiber 2g (8%)Sugar 3g (3%)Vitamin A 1500IU (30%)Vitamin C 14.9mg (18%)Calcium 50mg (5%)Iron 1.8mg (10%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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