How to prepare leeks

Add this tasty vegetable to your repertoire. It's not at all difficult to prepare, and always gives pleasing results.

By Moira Adams

Fresh leeks

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

If you're looking for a change from your usual choice of vegetables, consider the leek. It's a relative of the onion, but it tastes a lot nicer than any onion I know. It has a firm bite, and there's a hint of sweetness in the taste. It's a useful ingredient in many soups, stews, casseroles and sauces.

Cooking leeks is completely straightforward, as this article will show.

Trimming and washing

If you buy your leeks loose, you'll need to trim and wash them. This only takes a few moments.

Start by cutting away the thick dark leaves at the top of the stem. Also remove the root. Then run the knife down the length of the stem so as to cut it in two. Peel away and discard the outer layers if these are particularly tough.

Next, take each half of the stem. Fan the layers apart, and wash them under fast-running cold water. Leeks often harbor bits of grit between the layers, so make sure the water reaches right through. Then shake off as much of the water as possible, and use a kitchen towel to dry off any that's left. The leeks are now ready to be cooked.

Of course, you can also buy leeks that are already trimmed and washed. They're usually more expensive than the loose version, but the extra cost is partly offset by the fact that there will be less waste.

Sauté the leeks

Although leeks can be boiled or steamed, the results are never very good. To my mind, a much better option is to sauté them in a little vegetable oil or butter (or a mixture of the two).

After trimming and washing the leeks, cut them into small chunks. Sauté them until they just turn soft, which should take five to ten minutes. Don't overcook them, or they'll end up as a mush. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the pan so that any remaining oil gets left behind. Serve the leeks as an accompaniment to any dish that you would usually serve with green vegetables.

Pasta with leek sauce

Pasta with leeks

Photo © Veg World

A particularly nice way of preparing leeks is to make them into a sauce. A dish of hot pasta with a creamy leek sauce (see photo) is truly delicious - and very easy to make.

Start by putting the pasta on to boil according to the instructions on the pack. Then sauté the leeks as described above. Allow one large leek for each two portions of pasta.

While the leeks and pasta are cooking, make a white sauce. To make enough sauce for two portions, heat two tablespoons of oil in a pan. Stir in a tablespoon of flour, then gradually add 1¼ cups (10 fl oz, 300 ml) of milk. Keep stirring as the sauce thickens. (For an alternative method, see "How to make an ultra low-fat white sauce".) Finally, stir a little grated cheese into the sauce.

When the pasta is ready, drain it, and combine it with the sauce and the leeks. Serve straight away.

Eating leeks raw

You can eat leeks raw, but it's best to choose small, young leeks as these are particularly tender. Chop them finely, and add them to a salad, preferably with a light dressing such as this easy vinaigrette.

More ways of cooking leeks

In general, you can use leeks in any recipe that would otherwise call for onions. But keep in mind that leeks have a more pronounced taste than onions, and might overpower any particularly subtle flavors in the dish. This won't be a problem with most soups, stews, casseroles and the like.

I've had good results using leeks in place of onions in such vegetarian classics as lentil roast and vegetarian shepherd's pie. As a rough guide, replace one onion with one leek in these recipes. I can also recommend Janey Macleod's stunning leek croustade - easily the best leek recipe I know.

If you haven't cooked with leeks before, give them a try. You'll find them easy to prepare, and I'm sure you'll enjoy the finished product.

January 2011

Please note: Neither Veg World nor its contributors are qualified to give medical or nutritional advice. If in doubt, always consult a suitably-qualified professional.

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