What do you know about how to clean and prepare leeks? If you’re stuck in a rut with onions, you should consider leeks. Milder, sweeter, and more complex than yellow onions, they are amazingly versatile. Use them in stews or soups, sauté them with other vegetables, or prepare them as a side dish on their own. They are good hot, cold, or room temperature. Although they are big and tough in their raw state (I think they resemble scallions on steroids), when cooked leeks are surprisingly tender. Although they are almost always cooked, you can even use very thin slices of raw leek in salads.
How to Choose Leeks
There are two basic sizes of leeks. The huge ones are about 18 inches long. The smaller stalks are generally about half that size. Leeks are typically sold either in bunches of 3-5 or by the pound. Whatever their size, choose leeks with fresh-looking roots and a relatively flat (not bulbous) white root bottom. Their tops should be dark green and straight, not floppy. Elizabeth Schneider recommends that you bend the lower part of the core to make sure it is slightly flexible, because if it is completely stiff she says it will likely have a “woody core” that won’t soften during cooking.
How to Store Leeks
Wrap them in a damp paper towel and put the towel-wrapped leeks in a loosely closed plastic bag in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator.
How to Prepare Leeks
Leeks are notoriously difficult to clean because sand hides in between the layers. Cut the stalks and thoroughly rinse the opened layers, either in a bowl of water or under running water, to remove all the grit. If you are chopping the leeks, submerge the small pieces in a bowl of water. Sure these procedures may seem like a pain, but well-cleaned leeks are worth the effort.
Although most recipes where leeks are sliced or kept intact call for only the white or white and light green parts, the dark green tops are an excellent flavoring for soup or stock.
Leeks mixed with other vegetables – Leeks have a long history in Mediterranean cooking, so consider including them (cooked) in a casserole with potatoes, mint and dill. Elizabeth Schneider likes them cut into 1-inch lengths and steamed with carrots of similar size and diced mushrooms, tightly closed in aluminum foil packets.
Leeks on their own – Try braising leeks with a vinaigrette sauce. Serve them cold or at room temperature. You can also blanch leeks. After blanching, bake them with bechamel, a French white sauce, or plain grate cheese and bread crumbs. Or grill them, brushed with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Just take care that they don’t fall into the fire.
Other uses – Leeks are also featured in savory flan, tart, and quiche recipes.
No matter what else you plan for a meal, leeks can work. They go with fish, poultry, beef, lamb, and, of course, other vegetables and grains, as well as pasta.
- The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans ate leeks. (From Elizabeth Schneider’s Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini.)
- The Emperor Nero supposedly ate leek soup daily during his reign in the 1st Century to improve his speaking voice. (Jane Brody in Good Food Book)
- In the 8th or 9th Century, the Emperor Charlemagne ordered that leeks be planted on housetops because it was supposed to guard against fires, lightening and sorcery. (The Food Encyclopedia)
- Leeks are a national emblem of Wales and they are mentioned in Shakespeare’s King Henry V by the Welshman Fluellen, who says “Ay, leeks is good.”