How to Cut Leeks to Add Mildly-Sweet Onion Flavor to All Your Dishes
A relative of both garlic and onion, leeks are cylindrical stalks with layered green leaves. They look like a larger version of scallions and have a mild flavor that adds distinction to many recipes. Leeks are a favorite ingredient in British, French, and Italian dishes, with countless ways of serving the vegetable. Whether enjoyed warm or cold, leeks are almost always cooked before serving. Dirt tends to get in between the layers, so it's important to wash your produce thoroughly. Read on to learn how to prep leeks and how to cut leeks. Then you can use those chopped leeks in some of our favorite leek recipes.
How to Cut Leeks
If your leeks recipe calls for slicing whole leeks into rings, follow these directions:
- Place the leek on a cutting surface. Using a chef's knife ($40, Target) or large knife, cut a thin slice from the root end.
- Cut the dark green, tough leaves off the end and discard. Remove any wilted leaves from the remaining light-color section.
- You now have the section of the leek that is tender and best for cooking. Hold the leek with one hand and cut it into slices with the desired thickness.
What Part of the Leek to Use
While the whole leek is edible, mostly just the white and light green portions are used. The top leafy portion is tougher to eat but still has flavor. If your recipe doesn't use the leek's dark green tops, save them for homemade veggie stock.
How to Slice Halved Leeks
Another popular way to use a leek is to slice it in half lengthwise, all the way through the root end, with a chef's knife. Some recipes call for halved leeks. This is also the first step before chopping or slicing into half-moon shapes.
Here's how to prep leeks for a leeks recipe that calls for halved leeks:
- Follow the directions above for trimming the root ends and cutting away the dark, tough leaves.
- Using a chef's knife, cut leeks in half lengthwise all the way through the root end.
How to Slice Leeks Into Half-Moon Shapes or Strips
The above steps are the first steps to take if your leeks recipe calls for slicing leeks into half-moon shapes. To cut leeks into half-moons, place each rinsed and drained half, cut-side down, on a cutting surface. Hold the leek half with one hand and use a chef's knife to cut leeks crosswise, cutting them into slices with the desired thickness. To cut leeks into long strips, follow the steps above, except slice the leeks lengthwise (rather than crosswise).
Test Kitchen Tip: Wondering how many leeks you need? One medium leek (8 oz.) will yield about 1 cup chopped leek.
How to Clean Leeks
Unlike most fruits and veggies, it's easier to prep leeks before washing them. After chopping leeks, be sure to rinse them thoroughly using one of these two methods:
- In a colander: Place the leeks in a colander ($10, Target) and rinse thoroughly under cool running water. Drain the slices on paper towels or a clean, lint-free towel before using.
- In a salad spinner: Place the slices of cut leeks in the strainer of a salad spinner ($30, Wayfair) and rinse thoroughly under cool running water. Spin the cut leeks in the salad spinner until they're dry.
Washing Leek Halves
If using the leek halves, wash them thoroughly to remove any dirt from between the layers by holding each leek half under the faucet with the root end up. Rinse the leek under cool running water, separating and lifting the leaves with your fingers to make sure the dirt is flushed out. Drain on paper towels.
Purchasing and Storing Leeks
Leeks are generally available year-round. Look for leeks that have clean white and fresh green tops. Those smaller than 1½ inches in diameter are more tender than larger ones. Store leeks in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
How to Cook Leeks
After chopping leeks and rinsing them well, you can use them in many ways. Although leeks are sometimes the star of the dish, cut leeks are used much like chopped onions: as an ingredient to enhance the flavors of the overall dish.
If you want to experiment using cut leeks in recipes for soups, stews, casseroles, and even pizza, start by cooking leeks in butter, olive oil, or cooking oil. Here's how to cook leeks for use in other recipes:
- Start by chopping leeks (either into rings or half-moons) and cleaning them as instructed above.
- Heat butter, olive oil, or cooking oil in a skillet ($20, Walmart) or saucepan over medium-high heat. (Use about 1 tablespoon of butter or oil per 1⅓ cup leeks). Cook leeks, stirring 2 to 3 minutes or until leeks are tender. Add to your recipe.
Wondering what to make with leeks? Once you've learned how to prep leeks (and you've tasted their mellow onion-garlic flavor profile), you'll want to cook all kinds of recipes with leeks. Leeks are perfect when swirled into soups and stews. They also provide a nice twist to stir-fries, used as a pasta topper, or added to savory tarts and vegetable gratins.