Allium ampeloprasum, Porrum Group
Leeks, a member of the onion family, are not popular in North America. This is most unfortunate, because they are a delicious, delicately flavored vegetable. More subtle than onions, leeks are widely adored in France and the British Isles. In Wales, leeks are part of that country’s national emblem. Bits of them are worn by Welshmen in their buttonholes on St. David’s Day in memory of the victory of King Cadwallader over the Saxons in 640 CE.
Unlike onions, leeks do not form bulbs but instead grow thickened stems, from which sheaths of leaves emerge. The edible part is this stem, which is blanched white by piling soil high around it (trenching), and the light-green portion of the leaves.
In America, the most famous use of leeks is in vichyssoise, that creamy potato-and-leek soup made famous in the mid-1900s by New York City Ritz-Carlton chef Louis Diat, who recalled it from his French childhood. Leeks, however, are very versatile, lending their sophisticated, delicious character to any dish calling for onions.
The precise origin of leeks is a bit contentious. Many sources cite the Mediterranean region, whereas the Irish and other British Isles natives like to claim them for their very own. Shakespeare mentioned leeks in Henry V. On the other side of the globe, the Chinese and ancient Egyptians savored them as far back as recorded history allows. Leeks were described in the Bible as one of the foods that the Israelites missed most when they fled Egypt. The Greek physician Hippocrates prescribed leeks as a cure for nosebleeds, and King Charlemagne had them cultivated in his gardens during the Middle Ages.
Although not a storehouse of nutrients, leeks do contain manganese, vitamin C, iron, folate, and vitamin B6. A single cup of leeks contains 54 calories. Leeks and other members of the Allium family contain compounds that may reduce the risk of prostate and colon cancer when eaten three or more times a week.
Commercially, leeks are widely grown and available year-round. But their peak season at farmers markets and CSAs is from April through September.
Leeks should be firm and fresh looking, with bright green leaves and long thick stalks. Avoid leeks that are split, bruised, or overly large, which signal old age and toughness. Try to select leeks that are all the same size for more consistent cooking if you plan to prepare them whole.
Leeks should be stored unwashed and loosely wrapped in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator vegetable crisper. They will keep for up to 1 or 2 weeks this way.
Trimming and Cleaning
Leeks grow in sandy soil that is piled high around their thick stems to make them turn white (and stay mild and tender). As a result, their layered foliage often conceals a surprising amount of grit. Trim off the large, dark-green leaves (save them for making stock) and cut off the root end. Then cut the leek lengthwise into halves and run those exposed areas under running water to rinse away dirt. Another method is to cut the leeks crosswise into small pieces (typically about ¼ inch), then swish the pieces in a bowl of cold water. Let the dirt settle, and lift the leeks out of the water.
Steaming and Boiling
Leeks are particularly susceptible to overcooking, which makes them mushy and tasteless. They should be cooked just long enough to be tender but still offer a little resistance when a fork comes to call at their bases. Whole leeks can be steamed for 10 to 15 minutes; sliced leeks for 5 minutes. Avoid boiling leeks, which makes them waterlogged and far less flavorful.
Stir-Frying and Sautéing
Sauté thinly sliced leeks in a bit of oil or butter on medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, or until tender. Leeks can be stir-fried over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
Baking and Roasting
Roasting leeks in the oven is one of the best ways to prepare this vegetable, as it concentrates their flavor and accentuates their sweetness. Preheat the oven to 400°F, trim and clean whole leeks, slice them in half lengthwise or leave them whole, and brush with olive oil or butter. Place the leeks in an oiled shallow roasting pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 35 to 45 minutes, occasionally basting them with the pan juices or a bit more oil or butter to keep them moist.
Braising and Stewing
To braise or stew leeks, arrange them in a shallow dish or pan and barely cover them with broth or water. Bring to a boil and simmer gently, uncovered, until done, about 20 to 30 minutes for whole leeks and 10 to 15 minutes for sliced or chopped leeks.
Whole leeks will not cook evenly in the microwave, so cut them into 1-inch pieces, put them in a microwavable dish, and add 2 tablespoons of water. Cook on high power for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring halfway through.
Blanching and Freezing
Leeks can be frozen, although freezing destroys some of their taste and texture. Blanch them for 2 minutes in rapidly boiling water, then plunge them into ice water for 2 minutes to stop the cooking process. Remove and drain. Cut them into ½-inch pieces so you can easily pour out what you need, and store them in zipper-lock freezer or vacuum food sealer- type bags. Squeeze out any excess air and leave ½ inch of headspace (unless you are using the vacuum sealing method). Frozen leeks will keep for up to 3 months at 0°F.
Measures and Equivalents
- 1 medium leek = 1 side dish serving
- ½ cup cooked leeks = 1 serving
- 1 pound leeks = 2 cups chopped
- 1¼ pounds leeks = 2 large leeks or 3 medium leeks
- 2 pounds leeks = 1 pound trimmed = about 4 cups chopped = 2 cups chopped and cooked
Complementary Herbs, Seasonings, and Foods
Artichokes, asparagus, bacon, basil, béchamel sauce, beets, breadcrumbs, butter, cabbage, capers, celery, cheese (goat, Cheddar, Gruyère, Parmesan), chervil, chicken, cream, créme fraîche, curry, eggs, fennel, fish, green garlic, ham, hazelnut oil, hollandaise sauce, lemon, mustard, olives, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, parsley, peas, potatoes, red wine, saffron, sage, tarragon, thyme, tomatoes, veal, vinaigrette, walnut oil, white wine.
- Leeks become creamy and subtly sweet when baked. Serve them hot or cold with vinaigrette dressing, or layer them in a dish with ham and cheese and bake until they are hot and bubbling.
- Sprinkle thinly sliced raw leeks atop salads.
- Don’t throw away the trimmed darker green tops; they make wonderful soup stock.
- Bake leeks and asparagus together and top with hollandaise sauce for a first-class dish worthy of royalty—or your family.
- Throw oiled and seasoned leeks on the grill along with tomatoes and peppers for a tasty summer treat.
- Braise whole, halved, or chopped leeks in chicken or meat stock until the leeks are soft and glazed.
- Mix finely chopped raw leeks with sour cream, a little pepper, and Worcestershire sauce for a refined chip dip.
- For a delicious, hearty vegetable side dish, place leeks, sweet potato wedges, and whole garlic cloves in a casserole dish and drizzle with olive oil, seasoned salt or Old Bay seasoning, and pepper. Cover and bake in a 375°F oven for about 1 hour, or until the sweet potatoes are tender.
- Braised leeks make a sumptuous accompaniment to rich meats like roast pork, beef, and lamb.
- Sauté leeks with fennel for a tasty, surprise vegetable side dish.
Asparagus and Leek Soup
1 Tbsp + 3 ½ cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided 3 small or 2 medium garlic cloves, minced 1 ½ cups chopped yellow onions 3 cups chopped leeks, both white and green parts 1 cup chopped celery 1 bunch asparagus, tough ends trimmed & cut into 1-inch pieces High quality sea salt, to taste Freshly ground black pepper, to taste Chopped fresh parsley as a garnish
- Heat 1 tablespoon broth in a large cooking pot over medium heat and saute the garlic, onions and leeks.
- Add the celery and asparagus and cook for about 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Add the rest of the vegetable broth and bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat, partially cover and allow to simmer for about 25-30 minutes. Stir occasionally.
- Let the soup cool, transfer to a blender and blend in batches until it’s the desired smoothness.
- Add the soup back to the pot, and bring to a simmer. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Potato Leek Soup
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 3 cups leeks, white and part of the green included, well-washed and chopped ½ cup chopped onions 6 cups cubed potatoes (any variety), skins on 1 carrot, diced 1 rib celery, chopped 7 cups vegetable stock or water 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup milk or soy milk Freshly ground black pepper
- Heat the oil and butter in a medium soup pot. Stir in the leeks and onions. Cook on low heat, without browning, for 5 minutes.
- Add the potatoes, carrot, celery, stock, and salt. Bring to a boil, decrease the heat and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork-tender.
- Let the soup cool slightly. Puree it in a blender or run it through a food mill.
- Add the milk. Return the soup to the pot and gently reheat. Do not let it boil, as this will scald the milk. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, and serve.
— Tracy, Featherstone Farm CSA member
Chioggia Beet Slaw on a Bed of Grilled Leeks
¼ cup plain Greek-style yogurt 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice 5 Chioggia (candy-stripe) beets, julienned or grated (or use red or golden beets) 1 medium carrot, julienned or grated Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Whisk the yogurt, lemon juice, and orange zest and juice in a medium bowl. Add the beets and carrot, and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside to let the flavors blend.
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard 3 tablespoons white-wine vinegar ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil ⅓ cup finely chopped fresh basil Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste Combine all of the vinaigrette ingredients.
12 medium leeks, trimmed to about 7 inches, split lengthwise to within 1½ inches of the root end Olive oil for grilling
- Tie the leeks in 4 bundles with kitchen string, and put them in a kettle of boiling salted water. Boil them for 6 minutes or until they are just tender.
- Cut away the strings and refresh the leeks under cold running water (or drop them into a large bowl of ice water). Arrange them upside down in a colander to drain.
- Brush the leeks with olive oil and grill them on an oiled rack for 5 minutes on each side, or until they are golden. Transfer the leeks as they are grilled to a platter and keep warm.
- Drizzle the vinaigrette over the leeks and top with the Chioggia slaw.
— Karolina Tracz, Nash’s Organic Produce, Sequim, Washington
Vegan Sun-Dried Tomato and Leek Quiche
Source Note: This sun-dried tomato and leek quiche is a must-have recipe in your repertoire. It is the kind of dish that can be served for any meal at any time of the day; eat it for breakfast or bring it for a simple lunch. For a dinner option, serve this tasty quiche with a light green salad. It is a delicious dish that will satisfy vegans and non-vegans alike. And if you don’t have small tart pans, one 9-inch pan will work nicely.
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour ¼ cup pine nuts ¼ cup whole almonds ¼ teaspoon baking powder ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk 2 tablespoons olive oil ¼ teaspoon salt
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Coat four 5-inch tart pans with cooking spray.
- Pulse the flour, pine nuts, almonds, and baking powder in a food processor until finely ground.
- Whisk together the almond milk, olive oil, and salt in bowl. Stir in the flour mixture. Press into the tart pans.
- Bake for 5 minutes, then cool.
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided 1 large leek, washed, white and light green parts chopped (about 2 cups) 12 ounces extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into 1½-inch cubes 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 2 teaspoons miso paste 1 clove garlic, minced ¾ teaspoon salt 1 cup panko breadcrumbs 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (or combine dried thyme and oregano, or use a mix of fresh herbs) ¼ cup chopped, reconstituted sun-dried tomatoes, drained
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the leek and sauté for 8 minutes, or until softened. Set aside.
- Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the tofu, and simmer 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
- Whisk the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil with the lemon juice, miso, garlic, and salt in a bowl. Add the tofu and blend until smooth with an immersion blender. Stir in the breadcrumbs, seasonings, sundried tomatoes, and leeks. Spoon the filling into the crusts.
- Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the crusts are browned and the filling has set.
- Cool for 5 minutes, then unmold.
From Bounty from the Box: The CSA Farm Cookbook, by Mi Ae Lipe