Like onions, to which they are related, leeks
are most frequently used to add flavour to various dishes, particularly
stews and soups (the best known is vichyssoise, the classic
cold potato and leek soup from France). Leeks have a milder
and sweeter flavour than onions and a crunchy texture when cooked,
making them a delicious side dish served on their own. Leeks
are surprisingly nutritious, supplying more vitamins and minerals
than an equal sized serving of onions or spring onions (scallions).
Leeks resemble overgrown scallions, but are usually displayed
in bunches of three or four but sometimes they are sold separately.
Unfortunately, many markets sell bunches of leeks of wildly
different sizes, making it difficult if you plan to cook the
While the white ends of scallions may be
bulbous, those of leeks should be relatively straight and not
exceed 1 1/2" in diameter, larger leeks may be a little
stringy, and far less tasty. Check each leek at both ends: The
leaf tops should be fresh and green, while the white root end
should show a firmly attached fringe of rootlets and several
inches of unblemished skin, which will give very slightly to
pressure. Avoid leeks with obvious signs of age or mishandling,
such as wilted or torn greens or split or oversized bulbs.
Some markets also carry baby leeks, which
can be pencil thin and are more tender than medium-sized leeks,
try wrapping these in parma ham, drizzle with a cheese sauce
and grill for a few minutes.
Leeks will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. Store
them loosely wrapped in plastic, this not only helps them retain
moisture, but also prevents their odour from spreading to other
foods. Trim the leeks only when ready to prepare them.
Cooked and served whole, leeks make an excellent side dish or
appetiser. They can also be chopped or sliced for use as an
ingredient in other dishes.
Leeks often require careful cleaning as soil
and grit collects between the layers of the broad overlapping
leaves. Remove any withered or toughened outer leaves. Trim
off the darkest portion of the green tops (the whole leek is
edible, but the darker green portions have a stronger, less
pleasant flavour). Trim the rootlets at the base.
If cooking leeks whole, insert a knife about
1" below where the leaves start to turn green and slice
lengthwise to the top end. Then roll the leek a quarter turn
and make a second lengthwise slit perpendicular to the first.
Fan the leaves apart and wash under cool running water. Dirt
collects on a leek where it rose above the soil and starts to
Cut leeks as directed in the recipe and place
the leeks in a bowl of lukewarm water. Swish the leeks around
in the water and scoop them out. The dirt will settle to the
bottom of the bowl.
Leeks can quickly overcook, which turns them
soft and slimy. Also, they continue to cook after they are removed
from heat (unless you plunge them into cold water). If serving
them hot, cook until just barely tender, you should be able
to slightly pierce the base with the point of a sharp knife.
Since cooking times vary, depending upon the size and age of
the leeks, you will need to keep testing to see if they are