(Approx. reading time 5 mins 22 secs, last updated 02/June/2021)
Leeks are an underrated vegetable, usually only used in soups where the flavour gets sadly lost. They are an allium, which makes them a member of the onion family along with garlic, shallots, and chives and full of flavour!
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 have been part of our menus for centuries. There’s archaeological evidence of leeks being used in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. And it is now one of the symbols of Wales where it’s commonly used is dishes like leek and potato soup and cock-a-leekie.
If you’d like to try growing your own, check the RHS website for great information. Leeks are a good way to keep your garden productive during Autumn and Winter as they are the easiest member of the onion family to grow.
Leeks can be found in markets from September to May, but they are at their best between October and March.
Leeks are most definitely a Winter and Autumn vegetable, but thanks to greenhouses, nowadays leeks can be found year-round. If seasonality is something that is important to you, avoid getting leeks during the warmer months, unless they are the baby variety.
Leeks should be firm and undamaged. The green parts should be bright and the white unblemished.
Avoid buying trimmed and pre-chopped leeks, they are very expensive and dry out a lot faster. If you’re going for convenience, it’s better to get frozen leeks (usually sliced) or canned (either sliced or whole baby leeks).
Baby leeks tend to be more expensive than fully grown, but the flavour is also more delicate. If you enjoy eating baby leeks, you might want to try growing your own. They grow fast and are easy to care for.
Cut the roots and any dried out tops on the leeks and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks inside a plastic container or a bag. Don’t wash the leeks until you’re going to use them or you’ll risk them going bad faster.
Leeks can also be frozen whole or chopped (and they are now also sold in the frozen section of supermarkets), and they will last up to one year if properly protected.
If you’re growing your own leeks, you can keep them in the garden until you need them. They will just grow bigger and somewhat thicker, but that can be solved by either cutting them smaller or cooking them longer.
Leeks can have a lot of dirt between the leaves! Cut them lengthwise in half or quarters and wash them under running water. If you’re going to chop the leeks, chop them first and then wash with running water as well. Throw away the hard root if you didn’t before (or better, keep them to make stock).
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. I personally love risotto made with the greens of leeks (which I steam beforehand). 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 big or small the leeks are cut.
There are a lot of ways of eating leeks:
- 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 to 10 minutes. Be careful because 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. 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 also work for the white section of fully grown ones if sliced.
Much like onions, leeks go with pretty much everything savoury and they are in fact a great alternative to onions.
However, there are some flavour combinations that really make leeks stand out:
- 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 you’re not a fan of leeks or if you’re trying to cook a recipe that calls for them but you don’t have any leeks at home, don’t worry. There are several ways to replace leeks in recipes, either with ingredients that taste similar or fulfill the same function.
- 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.
50+ leek recipes
To end this massive post dedicated to leeks, here is a recipe roundup with some of my favourite recipes that use leeks from around the internet.
I’ve divided them depending on whether leeks are the main ingredient, or if they are one of a group of ingredients.
Leeks as the star
- Braised leeks and mustard greens, by allrecipes
- Carrots and leeks with ginger, by allrecipes
- Cheesy leeks a la Oliver, by Jamie Oliver
- Cock a leekie soup, by Great British Chefs
- Creamy leek gratin, by delicious.
- Creamy leeks, by Cook Style
- Curried coconut-leek soup, by allrecipes
- Curried leeks, by allrecipes
- Gammon and leek crumble, by Great British Chefs
- Leek and almond soup, by delicious.
- Leek, cheese and potato soup, by Great British Chefs
- Leek crumble, by Great British chefs
- Leek frittata, by Kiku Corner
- Leek gribiche, by allrecipes
- Leeks in lemon sauce, by allrecipes
- Leek mash, by allrecipes (the recipe is for steak with mash)
- Leeks, saffron and haricot beans, by The Guardian
- Leek soup, by BBC
- Leek slaw, by cuisinefiend
- Leeks vinaigrette with eggs mimosa, by Great British Chefs (sounds fancy, but it’s easy to make)
- Mash and leeks, by Great British Chefs
- Quiche leekraine, by Jamie Oliver
- Roasted baby leeks with thyme, Jamie Oliver
Leeks as a flavour
- Chargrilled marinated vegetables, by Jamie Oliver
- Chef John’s colcannon, by allrecipes
- Chef John’s white gazpacho, by allrecipes
- Chicken and leek pasties, by frugalfeeding
- Chicken and leek pie, by BBC
- Chicken and leek traybake, by BBC
- Ham and leek roll ups, by A pot of tea and a biscuit
- Ham & peas, by Jamie Oliver
- Helen’s leek, potato & pea soup, by Jamie Oliver
- Leek and broccoli soup, by Feeding boys
- Leek and chorizo puff pastry, by delicious.
- Leek and fennel soup, by not too sweet
- Leek and mackerel penne bake, by BBC good food
- Leek and pea dumpling curry, by delicious.
- Leek, lemon and white bean orzo, by delicious.
- Michael Sheen’s traditional Welsh cawl, by Jamie Oliver
- Mushroom and leek filo pie, by delicious.
- Mushrooms, leeks and fried eggs on toast, by BBC
- Parsnip and leek korma, by Riverford
- Pork & leek potstickers, by De tout coeur limousin
- Salmon, leek and dill tarts, by BBC
- Smothered leeks and kohlrabi, by BBC
- Sweet leek carbonara, by Jamie Oliver
- Sweet leek, ricotta and tomato lasagne, by Jamie Oliver
- Teriyaki chicken with leek and pepper stir-fry, by BBC
- Tortino di porri e riso (leek and rice bake), by delicious.
- Turkey and sweet leek pie, by Jamie Oliver
- Veggie quesadillas, by Jamie Oliver
- World’s most elegant winter pasta, by Jamie Oliver