How to Cook Leeks

5 from 1 vote

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Preparing leeks is easy and leads to some delicious recipes.

How to Cook Leeks

Let me start by saying that leeks (along with shallots) are one of my very favorite parts of the gorgeous world of onions. So I am truly happy to be spreading the leek gospel. Milder than onions, especially when cooked, the cylindrical white and green alliums are wonderful in so many different preparations and recipes. Once you start cooking with this vegetable, you will always want to have them in your fridge.

Fresh leeks on yellow surface.

What Are Leeks?

Leeks are a member of the Allium family, which is essentially the onion family. They can be used in any way that you would use an onion…which, as you surely know, is lots and lots of ways.

What Do Leeks Look Like?

Leeks look like oversized scallions or green onions, long and cylindrical. The bottom few inches or so of the bulbs are white and then the color transitions fairly quickly to light green, then to very dark green at the tops.

Unwashed leeks on a yellow surface.

What Do Leeks Taste Like?

Leeks taste like a slightly milder, sweeter, and mellower onion. The flavor is quite gentle, particularly when cooked, which is how most leeks are prepared. Raw leeks can be quite strong.

How to Cook Leeks: Answers to all of those questions about how to buy, store, cut, prepare, and cook with leeks!

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FAQs

How do I pick the best leeks?

Choose leeks that are no more than 1 1/2 inches in diameter if possible. Larger leeks can be more fibrous, with a woody core in the middle (which can be cut out). You will find that some outer layers aren’t as firm and fresh and, therefore, need to be removed and tossed (or rinsed and used to make stock, such as turkey stock). Choose firm leeks with nice taut layers, and at least 3 inches of pure white base if possible.

Which parts of the leeks can you eat? 

You want to use only the more tender light green and white parts for cooking and eating. The dark green parts are quite tough and difficult to chew and digest; not very pleasant to eat. If any of the outer layers of the leaf are soft or loose, you will want to remove them and save them along with the dark greens to make stock; more on that below.

How can you use the leek greens?

The dark green tops of leeks are very fibrous and tough, and can be cleaned well and used to flavor stocks. Leek greens can also be added to the water when simmering other foods such as potatoes, artichokes, or shellfish. You can also line a bamboo steamer with them for a little extra flavor for your steamed dumplings and buns. Also, if you clean leeks but don’t cut them up, you can line them up in a roasting pan, creating a makeshift rack of sorts, and roast a chicken or piece of meat on them. The leeks will soften during cooking, and absorb the juices and flavor of the meat.

When are leeks in season?

They are available in the fall and the spring. The spring leeks are smaller and more mildly flavored.

How to Clean Leeks

Leeks push their way out of the ground, trapping quite a bit of dirt between the layers. To clean leeks, trim off the root end, and then the dark green tops. Sometimes, in the middle of the leek, you can find some inner light green layers buried within dark green outer layers, and it’s worth cutting off the dark green leaves in the middle to get the light green core, which is very edible.

Trimming and removing the tough outer leaves from fresh leeks.

Wash the cut or trimmed leeks extremely well under cold water just before using. You can halve them lengthwise. Or, if you are slicing or chopping them for a recipe, you can do that before rinsing them to make it easier to remove the dirt.

Woman slicing leeks on a cutting board.

How to Cut Leeks

Again, just use the white and light green parts. You can slice them crosswise into disks that will separate as you cook them, or slice the leeks lengthwise and then slice them.

Slicing leeks on cutting board.

You can also chop them. One easy way to do that is to slice the leeks lengthwise into strips and then cut them crosswise.

Dicing fresh leeks on cutting board.

How to Use Leeks

There are lots of ways to use leeks, as there are many ways to use onions. Leeks can be eaten raw, though this is a more unusual presentation. They are best very thinly sliced or minced when uncooked. Like all members of the allium family, leeks are definitely more intense and oniony when uncooked.

Leeks are usually used much like onions and the like — cooked as a supporting aromatic in all kinds of recipes, from braises to pan sauces. Sautéed leeks are like sautéed onions — an amazing building block or base for all kinds of dishes.

Leeks can be sautéed, roasted, steamed, stir-fried, and just plain fried (sometimes fancy restaurants top dishes with thinly slivered and quickly fried crispy leeks). But they can also be cooked and featured as a vegetable in their own right (which is more common in European cooking); roasted and braised leeks are terrific.

Sliced leeks in a colander.

Substituting Leeks for Onions

You can substitute leeks for onions in pretty much any recipe. Again, use only the tender white and very light green parts of the leek.

Leeks are a bit milder than some onions, but not much. You can pretty much substitute leeks for onions on a one-to-one basis (e.g., 1 cup chopped leeks for 1 cup chopped onions). Or, if you think your leeks are particularly mild, go for 1 1/2 cups of leeks for every 1 cup of onions called for in a recipe.

Leek, Mushroom, and Goat Cheese Quiche on a plate with asparagus.
Leek, Mushroom, and Goat Cheese Quiche

How to Store Leeks

For leeks to last as long as possible, don’t trim or wash them until you are ready to use them. The roots and dark green leaves help them last longer — up to two weeks. If you do want to cut your leeks for a recipe, do it only a couple of days ahead of time. Leeks will last in the refrigerator for about two weeks, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag.


12 Leek Recipes

Use leeks in any recipe that calls for onions, or try one of these delicious leek recipes.

Orange Salmon with Leeks and Mushrooms / Katie Workman / themom100.com / Photo by Cheyenne Cohen
5 from 52 votes

Orange Salmon with Leeks and Mushrooms

This easy recipe for salmon is perfect in the spring when leeks are in season!
View Recipe

Spring Vegetable Soup
5 from 23 votes

Spring Vegetable Soup

This is a very flexible vegetable soup recipe, beautiful, simple to make, and a great way to use all of those long-awaited vegetables of spring.
View Recipe

Skillet of Braised Baby Artichokes with Leeks and Capers.
5 from 2 votes

Braised Baby Artichokes with Leeks and Capers

This dish is like Spring decided to have a sit-in in your mouth.
View Recipe

Milk Braised Pork
5 from 4 votes

Milk-Braised Pork

This classic Italian pork dish is cooked until fork-tender and served in a milk-based sauce with a wonderfully rich flavor.
View Recipe

Spoon in a Dutch Oven of Idaho Potatoes.
5 from 4 votes

Dutch Oven Idaho Potatoes

One of the best potato dishes from potato country. This is like an informal scalloped potato dish with bacon, leeks, and mushrooms.
View Recipe

Chicken with White Wine, Leek, Spinach and Arugula Pan Sauce / Katie Workman / themom100.com / Photo by Cheyenne Cohen
5 from 1 vote

Chicken with White Wine, Leek, Spinach, and Arugula Pan Sauce

Leeks are a terrific base for a flavorful pan sauce. Use this on chicken, or try it on a pork cutlet or fish filet.
View Recipe

Pan Seared Pork Chops with Madeira and Leek Cream Sauce / Mia / Katie Workman / themom100.com
5 from 1 vote

Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Madeira and Leek Cream Sauce

A silky Madeira sauce gets loads of flavor from sliced sautéed leeks.
View Recipe

Muffin tin of Bacon, Leek, Mushroom and Cheese Mini Quiches.
5 from 1 vote

Bacon, Leek, Mushroom, and Cheese Mini Quiches

I love using leeks in quiches, for their mild oniony flavor, and also their pretty green color.
View Recipe

Leek, Chicken Sausage and Split Pea Soup
5 from 1 vote

Leek, Chicken Sausage, and Split Pea Soup

This soup is more like a stew, and a terrific stick to your ribs recipe for cold weather.
View Recipe

Chicken with Tomato and Leek Pan Sauce with Jasmine Rice
5 from 1 vote

Chicken with Tomato and Leek Pan Sauce over Jasmine Rice

This summery pan sauce is a great way to dress up a chicken breast.
View Recipe

Silky Leek Soup / Laura Agra / Katie Workman / themom100.com
4.34 from 3 votes

Silky Leek Soup

Leeks are the star of the show in this smooth pureed soup.
View Recipe

Leek, Mushroom and Goat Cheese Quiche / Mia / Katie Workman / themom100.com
4.70 from 10 votes

Leek, Mushroom, and Goat Cheese Quiche

This quiche recipe is somehow nostalgic and modern feeling all at the same time.
View Recipe


5 from 1 vote

How to Prepare and Cut Leeks

Preparing leeks is easy and leads to some delicious recipes.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 4 People

Equipment

Ingredients 

  • Leeks
  • Water (as needed for cleaning)

Instructions 

  • To clean leeks, trim off the root end and then the dark green tops. Sometimes, in the middle of the leek, you can find some inner light green layers buried within dark green outer layers, and it’s worth cutting off the dark green leaves in the middle and peeling them away to get the light green core.
  • Wash the cut or trimmed leeks extremely well under cold water just before using. You can halve them lengthwise. Or, if you are slicing or chopping them for a recipe, you can do that before rinsing them to make it easier to remove the dirt.
  • Again, just use the white and light green parts. You can slice them crosswise into disks, that will separate as you cook them. Or slice the leeks lengthwise and then slice them into half moons (which will also fall apart). You can also chop them; one easy way to do that is to slice the leeks lengthwise into strips and then cut them crosswise.

Notes

Wash the cut or trimmed leeks extremely well under cold water just before using. You can halve them lengthwise. Or, if you are slicing or chopping them for a recipe, you can do that before rinsing them to make it easier to remove the dirt.
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About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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