Leeks are affordable, easy to find, incredibly versatile and, when cooked properly, delicious. When raw the flavour can be very strong, but when cooked it becomes sweet and delicate. Leeks are also a great way to eat fresh vegetables in winter when not much else is available unless it’s imported (especially if you live in colder climates).
Leeks can have a lot of dirt between the leaves. Cut it lengthwise in half or quarter and wash it, or chop it and then wash with running water before using.
Throw away the root if you didn’t before. But the green tops can be used, their flavour is less like onions and more like greens. They can be stringy, so better left for stocks, or blended soups. Outer leaves can be used unless they are damaged or dried.
Once chopped 1 kilo (2 pounds) of leeks will be between 4 to 5 cups (depending on how much is discarded and how thinly it’s sliced).
- Raw: baby leeks can be sliced or chopped and eaten raw. Fully grown leeks can be eaten raw if sliced very thinly and used sparingly as the flavour can be overwhelming. Best for salads or as garnish.
- Fried: best for chopped leeks or baby leeks. Fry until soft or golden. Can be used as an onion replacement for the base of a sauce, soup, or stew.
- Deep fried: best for baby leeks. When battered and deep fried they go great on a tempura platter.
- Stir-fried: chopped or baby leeks, takes about 5 minutes.
- Steamed: for chopped or baby leeks.
- Boiled: for chopped, whole or baby leeks. It should take between 5 and 10 minutes, over boiled leeks become mushy and slimy. A great addition to soups and stews, but a bit bland as a side.
- Roast: best for whole or baby. Leeks can be roasted uncovered (and turning every 10 minutes or so) or wrapped in foil.
- Grilled: for whole or baby leeks. They can be grilled on a hob or open fire, uncovered or wrapped in foil. A great BBQ vegetable.
- Braised: best for chopped or baby leeks. Fry for a few seconds, add stock and cover. It should take between 10 and 20 minutes depending on the thickness.
- Pickled: yes, leeks can be pickled, either as real or quick pickles. Baby leeks are best, but it will work for the white section of fully grown ones if sliced as well.
- Vegetables: potatoes, green leaves, winter squashes, carrots, green beans, garlic, cauliflower, peas, artichokes, seaweed, mushrooms, celery, bell peppers
- Fruits: citrus, apples, prunes, raisins
- Herbs, spices and condiments: vinegar, paprika, parsley, aniseed, coriander, bay, thyme, mustard, soy sauce, tarragon, sage, ginger, chilli
- Others: cheese, nutritional yeast, chicken, smoky flavours, pasta, bread, rice, tofu, barley, lentils, beans
- If used for flavour: yellow or brown onions, shallots, ramps (basically wild leeks, they can be very hard to find in shops but easy to forage), or negi (a Japanese vegetable).
- If used as a garnish: green onions (scallions)
- If used as a vegetable side: asparagus, chard, pak choi.