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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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 of Leeks
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.
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