A relative of garlic and onion, leeks have a milder flavor. Chopping leeks is easy once you get the hang of it! The key is knowing which parts of the leek to use and how to clean them. We'll show you how to prep leeks, how to cook leeks, and—best of all—what to make with leeks, including some of our favorite recipes with leeks.

June 09, 2015

What Are Leeks?

A relative of both garlic and onion, leeks are cylindrical stalks with layered green leaves. They look like a larger version of a scallion and have a mild flavor that adds distinction to many recipes. Leeks are a favorite of the British, French, and Italians, who have countless ways of serving the vegetable; however, whether enjoyed warm or cold, they're usually always cooked before serving. Dirt tends to get in between the layers, so make sure you give your leeks a good rinse before using. Read on to learn how to prep leeks for many kinds of leeks recipes.

Purchasing and Storing Leeks

Leeks are generally available year-round. They should be crisp and healthy looking. Those smaller than 1-1/2 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 Slice a Whole Leek

If your leeks recipe calls for slicing whole leeks into rings, follow these directions:

1. Place the leek on a cutting surface. Using a chefs knife 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 desired thickness using the chefs knife.

2. After chopping leeks, be sure to rinse them thoroughly.

How to Rinse Cut Leeks

Here are two ways to rinse cut leeks:

  • Place the slices in a colander and rinse thoroughly under cool running water. Drain the slices on paper towels before using.
  • Place the slices of cut leeks in the strainer of a salad spinner and rinse thoroughly under cool running water. Spin the cut leeks in the salad spinner until they're dry.

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 chefs 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:

1. Follow directions above for trimming the root ends and cutting away the dark, tough leaves.

2. Using a chefs knife, cut leeks in half lengthwise all the way through the root end.

3. Before using the leek halves, wash them thoroughly to remove any dirt from between the layers. Hold 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.

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 chefs knife to cut leeks crosswise, cutting them into slices with desired thickness.

Some recipes call for slicing leeks into long, thin, narrow strips. To cut leeks into long strips, follow the steps above, except slice the leeks lengthwise (rather than crosswise).


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, usually 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, and casseroles, 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 or saucepan over medium-high heat. (Use about 1 tablespoon of butter or oil per 1-1/3 cup leeks). Cook leeks, stirring 2 to 3 minutes or until leeks are tender. Add to your recipe.

Recipes with Leeks

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—swirled into soups, stews, and stir-fries or added to savory tarts and vegetable gratins. These recipes with leeks will get you started.


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