What Are Leeks and How Do You Cook With Them?
What Are Leeks and What Do They Taste Like?
A member of the Allium family, leeks are a bulbous vegetable with a white base that transitions from light green to dark green at the top. Only the tender white portion is eaten. Some mistake this portion as the stem or stalk, but it is actually a cylindrical bundle of leaf sheaths.
Leeks have a mildly sweet flavor that is reminiscent of other alliums, such as onions, shallots, garlic, and chives. They are often used the way onions are — as part of a base of flavors for soups, stews, and other long-cooking dishes. However, their more mild flavor means they can be enjoyed on their own as well.
How to Pick Leeks
Because you'll be using only the white and light green parts for cooking, look for leeks with plenty of white coming up from the root. Smaller leaks tend to be more flavorful.
How to Prepare Leeks
How to Cut Leeks
- Cut off the root and the tough green leaves at the top.
- Cut the leek in half lengthwise.
- If you're not cooking whole leeks, go ahead and lay them cut-side-down and cut them into half moons.
How to Wash Leeks
Leeks hold a lot of dirt between their sheaths, so cleaning them is extra important. You can do so one of three ways:
- Use a colander: Place the whole or sliced leeks into a colander and rinse with running water, using your hands to toss them until all dirt and debris are gone. Blot dry with a paper towel.
- Soak: Soak leeks in cold water for about 30 minutes, repeating until there is no dirt in the water.
- Use a salad spinner: Fill a salad spinner with sliced leeks and rinse with cold water. Spin the leeks in the salad spinner until dry.
How to Cook With Leeks
Braised, steamed, sautéed, poached, or pureed, a sturdy-looking leek cooks down to velvety sweetness. French leek and potato soup is a favorite dish in which leeks and potatoes are pureed in a cream-based soup. You can also add sliced likes to a creamy dip to add onion-like flavor without overwhelming the dip. Try roasting them whole and serving alongside meats or eggs. Or don't cook them at all! Sliced leeks make a crunchy, fibrous topping for soups and salads.
How to Store Leeks
Leeks can keep for months when stored in a root cellar, or up to two weeks when loosely wrapped in plastic and kept in the fridge. Don't wash or trim them until you're ready to use, as this can help prevent their odor from being absorbed by neighboring foods.
Leeks are low in calories, much like green onions, and boast a number of health benefits:
- They're rich in flavonoids, which are antioxidants with inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and anticancer properties.
- They're a good source of vitamin K, which may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, in addition to aiding in blood clotting for wounds and supporting heart health.
- They're high in fiber, which helps promote regularity and a healthy digestive system.
Leek vs. Green Onions
Green onions are the best substitute for leeks, however, they're still quite different. Unlike leeks which tenderize while cooking, green onions can become slimy under high heat. Green onions have a much pungent flavor than leeks, which is why they are generally added to dishes after cooking to add freshness and crunch.
More Leek Recipes
Find recipe inspiration for cooking with leeks.
- 5 Ways to Cook with Leeks
- Scallions vs. Green Onions: What's the Difference?
- Browse our entire collection of Leek Recipes.