Ingredient of the Week: Leeks

IMG - Leeks.jpg
Photo by John Suh
Good for soups
What is it?

Part of the onion and garlic family, leeks are large green stalks that resemble scallions or green onions on steroids. The flavor is described as falling somewhere between a mild onion and a cucumber, similar to the shallot but sweeter. Unlike scallions, leeks are not pungent or bitter, and they need to be cooked before consuming. They're a national emblem of Wales and therefore popular in Welsh cuisine.

Leeks have similar health benefits to garlic and onions, i.e., they contain flavonoids, B vitamin folate, and antioxidant polyphenols. They add a delicate, onion-like flavor to food without overpowering it.

How do I use it?

The edible parts of the leek are the white onion base and the light-green parts of the stalk. The darker ends of the leek are usually discarded, as they can contain a woody taste. Leeks are often used to flavor soups, stews, broths and stocks. They can be sauteed, braised, or added to salads. Pork and leek dumplings are common in Chinese cuisine.

Leeks contain a lot of dirt, so they need a thorough washing before cooking. If you're going to cook the leeks whole, cut them in half almost to the root, spread the sheaths and run them under water to remove dirt. If you're only going to use the edible parts of the leek, first cut off the root and dark-green ends of the leaves. Then cut the white bulb and light-green parts of the leek lengthwise, fan apart, and run under water. After washing, cut these into desired lengths, then cut again lengthwise into thin strips, and re-wash. Prior to cooking, let the leeks stand for five minutes, as this will enhance their health promoting qualities. (The same goes for when you cut and cook onions and garlic.)

Where can I find it?

In the produce section of most grocery stores. Leeks are available year-round but best when in season, which is from fall to spring. Choose leeks that are firm and straight with dark-green leaves and white heads. The larger the leek, the more mature and thus less flavorful it is, so try to stick with ones that are no larger than one-and-a-half inches in diameter. Avoid leeks with a round bulbous head -- these are too old.

Leeks can be stored unwashed and untrimmed in the vegetable crisper of your fridge, where they should keep for one to two weeks. Cut and cooked leeks will only keep for one or two days. You can freeze leeks, but they will become mushy and more bitter.

Recipes

Mushroom and Leek Soup
This recipe from Epicurious is simple and healthy.

Vichyssoise
With this bipolar weather we've been seeing, perhaps you'd prefer a cold soup. Also from Epicurious, here is a vichyssoise recipe utilizing the classic ingredients of leeks and potatoes.

What do you do with your leeks?



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7 comments
CB22
CB22

Leek and Potato soup - best soup ever. Ever.

Megan
Megan

Mmmm, leeks.  I had the best leek quiche in Tours, France while in high school.  That was my first introduction to them and I've loved them since.

Christina Uticone
Christina Uticone

My favorite leek recipe is wine-braised leeks with cherry tomatoes:

Trim ends, then split 2 large leeks lengthwise; rinse well. Place cut-side up in a baking dish and pour in about 1/2 cup dry white wine. Throw in a handful or two of whole cherry tomatoes (as many as you like) and sprinkle the whole thing with kosher salt. Dot the top of the onions with small dabs of butter. Braise in a 425 degree oven for about 35-40 minutes, or until tops of leeks turn brown.

Five ingredients and it will blow you away, I promise!

Corey
Corey

I use leaks, cremini mushrooms and fontina in my turkey meatloaf, great stuff...

Christine Ha
Christine Ha

That's exactly what I ended up doing yesterday.

Christine Ha
Christine Ha

What a lovely loaf. That's what he said. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

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