You’ve probably seen leeks in the produce department of your local grocery store. They look like a gigantic scallion – and you probably thought they were in the same family but weren’t sure what to do with them.
Leeks, (Allium porrum), are related to garlic, onions, shallots, and scallions. They are usually about 12 inches long and one to two inches in diameter. Wild leeks, known as ramps, are smaller in size, but have a stronger, more intense flavor. They are available for a short time each year and are widely prized by chefs and foodies when in season.
Native to the Mediterranean, the leek has been prized by gourmets for thousands of years and still holds a spotlight in today’s cuisine. Leeks have a more delicate and sweeter flavor than onions and add a subtle touch to recipes without overpowering other flavors. In French Kids Eat Everything by Karen LeBillion she reports that leeks are one of the first vegetables to which French kids are introduced because of their mild flavor and ease of digestion. Certainly they are quite versatile and cook to a silky mellowness that differentiates it from its cousins.
Leeks are an excellent source of vitamin K. A very good source of manganese, vitamin B6, copper, iron, folate, and vitamin C. Leeks are also a good source of vitamin A.
Although leeks are available throughout the year they are in season from the fall through the early part of spring when they are at their best.
How to Select and Store
Leeks should be firm and straight with dark green leaves and white necks. Avoid leeks that are yellowed or wilted, or have bulbs that have cracks or bruises. As with many vegetables the smaller the leek, the tenderer it will be to eat. Choose leeks with a diameter of one and one-half inches or less.
Fresh leeks should be stored unwashed and untrimmed in the refrigerator, where they will keep fresh for between one and two weeks. Wrapping them loosely in a plastic bag will help them to retain moisture.
Cooked leeks are highly perishable and will only stay fresh two days in the refrigerator. Leeks may be frozen for up to three months after being blanched but they will lose some of their desirable taste and texture qualities. Unless you have a crazy crop of leeks it’s probably best to use them fresh.
Tips for Preparing and Cooking
Leeks are notorious for trapping dirt inside their stems which can ruin your dish very quickly! It’s very important for you to make sure the leeks are well cleaned. Here’s how to do it. Cut off the tip of the root leaving the bulb intact. Trim off the dark green leaves (save for soup). Insert a knife into the bulb about an inch or so above the base. Fan out the leeks and rinse well under running water opening up the leaves and making sure all the dirt is washed away.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas
- Add finely chopped leeks to salads.
- Substitute leeks for onions and make rich potato soup. Serve it cold as vichyssoise.
- Add leeks to broth and stews for extra flavoring.
- Add sliced leeks to your favorite omelet or frittata recipe.
Here’s another great recipe: Lemony leeks and potatoes