Leeks are a staple of French cuisine, but they're also good for you. They're high in fiber and vitamin K and low in calories. Have you been wondering what the hype is and wondering: what do leeks taste like?
Good News! I got you! In this post, we'll explore what a leek tastes like, where to find them—and how to use them in your cooking.
In addition to their nutritional benefits, leeks are also versatile in recipes because their unique flavor mellows after cooking (so you can use them in recipes where you wouldn't typically use onions).
They're great for making soups because they will soften up from boiling without becoming mushy or disintegrating into your stew, like celery.
Leeks are members of the onion family. They taste like onions if the volume is turned down. They are typically used in French cooking, but you can find them on restaurant menus worldwide. Leeks are an Allium family member and look like large green onions —except they have a milder flavor. Leeks are excellent sources of vitamins A, C, and K. They also provide fiber and iron.
There are two main types of leeks. Bunching or green leeks have long, slim leaves that grow together at the base – these are usually about 6 inches long when fully grown. Giant Musselburgh leeks have thick white skin and pale green tops – these can grow to be 2 feet tall!
Leeks are grown in the ground. They are planted in rows and require sandy soil. Leeks grow best from spring through fa l but can be harvested all year round if you live somewhere cold like Canada.
The leaves of leeks can grow up to two feet long! The white and thick root has many edible layers when cooked for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (176 Celsius).
Leeks are great for slow cooking and add depth of oniony flavor and are an excellent substitute for onions. Finally, leeks can be used as part of a salad or sautéed as a side dish with other vegetables (like carrots) or as a garnish for your favorite protein (such as steak).
The white base of a leek is most commonly consumed. It's more tender than its green counterpart. It has a mild onion flavor that works well with other ingredients, such as meats and fish.
The green leaves have a more robust flavor, which makes them ideal for dishes like soups and stews, where their earthy taste complements other ingredients well.
You might wonder whether raw leeks taste different than cooked ones. The answer is yes, but not by a whole lot. It turns sweeter and more pungent while losing its slight bitterness when you cook a leek.
You also have to be careful because the cells of the leaves can release a lot of water when you cut through them, so it's essential to keep them upright in your pan or pot so that they don't spill out everywhere!
Cooking with leeks
You can use leeks in soups, stews, casseroles, and stir-fries. They're also great additions to salads. Leeks can be used raw or cooked. They retain more color if you cook them first.
If cooking leeks with other vegetables or meats: Keep the pieces small enough to eat in one bite. Sautéing (I think) is the best way to soften the flavor of leeks without losing their texture too much—but avoid over-cooking them!
They'll shrink quite a bit when heated up, so don't try crowding them in a pan unless you intend to make mashed leek soup later (in which case, go for it).
Leeks are a common ingredient in soups and stews. They have a subtle flavor, so they won t overpower the other ingredients in your dish.
They're also great additions to stir-fries, casseroles, and pasta dishes. Leeks can soak up the flavor of whatever r sauce you use for your stir fry or casserole, which makes them an excellent option if you're trying to avoid heavy sauces that might overwhelm other flavors in your meal.
How To Cook leeks
Once you've sliced your leeks into pieces, several different cooking methods will make them taste great. Depending on what dish you're making and how much time you have available, consider boiling or steaming them before adding them as ingredients to another recipe.
To cook leeks, wash them thoroughly. First, trim off the root and dark green tops. Then, slice them into pieces (or chop them if you prefer). You can also julienne your leeks—cutting them into thin strips of equal width. Next, sauté or braise the leeks in a skillet with butter or olive oil until they become tender and soft.
If you want to use your leek as part of a salad recipe, try slicing it thinly before adding it to a mixture of vegetables like cucumbers or radishes for fresh flavor.
Working with leeks
When you're working with leeks, it's important to start by using a sharp knife to cut off the root end of the vegetable. You'll then want to cut off discolored or dead leaves and wash your leeks thoroughly under cool water.
If you're not picking them from the garden, you can buy whole leeks at farmer's markets, conventional grocery stores, and specialty food stores. Leeks grow best when planted in spring or early summer (in warmer climates).
If you're looking for them later in the season—after July—it's likely they won't have many left by then. In addition, some areas have longer growing seasons than others.
How to Select and Store
If you're trying to decide between two leeks, pick the one that looks most fresh. Fresh Leeks should be firm, smooth, and shiny with no wilted leaves or spots.
When choosing a leek at the store, look for one that is heavy for its size—this indicates that it has plenty of water inside (which is key to deliciousness). If they seem lightweight or limp, don't buy them!
Keep your leeks in the refrigerator for about a week to stay fresh.
To store them:
- Cut off half of the dark green part
- Place them in a plastic bag
- Seal tightly, so no air gets inside
- Put them in your vegetable crisper section where it's coldest (around 35°F).
How to Cut leeks
If you're going to cook with leeks, the first thing you'll want to do is remove the outer leaves. Simply use a paring knife and cut away any discovered or dark leaves.
Once your leek has been trimmed, cut off the top so that only 2 inches remain. This will create an opening into which you can easily insert your knife later on—and a shorter leek means less work for yourself!
Now comes the fun part: cutting up your vegetable!
First, you should slice open the bottom of the leek and rinse it under cold water to get rid of the remaining dirt. Then cut its other halves into pieces about 1 inch long (depending on how large they are).
You can also slice them into small rings. Once you have sliced and clean leeks, it's time to get cooking.
Leeks pair well with onions, potatoes, mushrooms, and other root vegetables. Leeks bring an earthy taste to dishes while adding depth to casseroles and other slow-cooked meals.
What is a substitute for leeks?
If you're looking for a vegetable that is a good substitute for leeks, try these:
- Shallots are a bit stronger than leeks and have a more pungent flavor.
- Scallions will give you the same oniony taste as leeks; however, they don't have the same texture and aren't as sweet.
- Garlic will give your dish a similar flavor to what you find in dishes with leeks without having to deal with those pesky thick leaves!
Leek's mild flavor makes them a good match for fish like cod or salmon and meat dishes like steak or lamb chops.
Leeks also pair well with grains like ice or quinoa to make hearty dishes and potatoes and pasta, so you can enjoy them all year long!
Leeks are a good choice for risotto; their mildness makes them easy to pair with stronger flavors like garlic or onions while letting their mild taste shine through.
They also work well with rice-based dishes because they have similar textures and absorb flavors easily without overpowering themselves (unlike potatoes).