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Food & Recipes

Why Chefs Love to Cook With Leeks + Easy Recipes Full of Delicious Sweet Oniony Flavor

Your fuss-free guide to shopping for, storing and cooking this vegetable

Fresh leeks likely catch your attention in the produce aisle thanks to their leafy green top and white bulbous stem. But, there’s more to this onion than what meets the eye as it’s sweeter and less acidic than other varieties. Preparing leeks is simple, especially when you start by using chef’s tips to buy and store it correctly. Even better, leeks are readily available year-round so they’re ready to satué, broil or toss in a salad. Keep reading for a handy guide on maximizing leeks so they infuse any savory dish with a touch of sweetness!

What are leeks?

Leeks are a vegetable that comes from the Allium family. This onion is known for its long, slender shape and distinctly balanced taste. In fact, Albert Nguyen, chef-instructor of Culinary Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education, describes the flavor as “significantly more mild than a scallion or spring onion.” This makes them versatile for any cooking method like steaming, broiling or roasting. Beyond its flavor and appearance, leeks are packed with nutrients as each veggie contains 2 grams of gut-healthy fiber and 53 milligrams of immune-boosting calcium.

When leeks are in season

While leeks are available at commercial grocers year-round, farmers markets usually sell them from April through September — the veggie’s peak season. Whether you get them from the standard produce aisle or a local farmer, selecting the freshest leeks ensures the best flavor and texture for cooking. (Click through to find out when ramps are in season.)

What to look for when shopping for leeks 

Below, Nguyen shares his three easy tips for shopping for the best bundle of leeks at the store.

1. Color

Look for leeks with vibrant green tops and shiny white stems. 

2. Texture

When feeling the leeks, make sure the leafy tops are firm and the stem is solid and plump.

3. Size

Ideally, you want to buy a leek that has the tallest and thickest white bottom. This provides you with better value since this is the most versatile part of the vegetable.

How to store leeks

After bringing your leeks home, Nguyen recommends storing them in your crisper drawer without the plastic bag. “It can be left exposed since it is a vegetable that contains a fair amount of moisture,” he says.

If you’re unable to fit the whole leek into the drawer, Nguyen says you can cut off just enough of the green tops so they can fit. However, he warns against slicing off too much because this part of the veggie helps maintain its moisture and shelf life. When stored correctly, the leeks will stay fresh for up to 2 weeks.

Easy trick for cleaning leeks

The bottom part of a leek grows in soil, causing dirt to enter the crevices of the veggie. To remove any grit, slice the leek as instructed in your recipe and soak it in water until the dirt detaches. This video from Food Network demonstrates how to clean leek so no bits of soil end up in your final dish.

3 delicious ideas for using leeks

A frittata with leeks, mushrooms and spinach
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Although leeks are an onion, Nguyen suggests finding ways to make them pop. Here, he shares three ideas for using leeks to enhance your everyday meals!

1. Make a refreshing salad.

Enjoy leeks raw by slicing them thin and tossing them into a salad. A mixture of veggie leaves like watercress and radicchio, a pungent vinaigrette and toppings such as nuts or cheese create a robust salad that complements the sweet leeks.

2. Turn them into a frittata.

Add leeks to your go-to frittata recipe by slicing the top and stem and sautéeing them for about 5 minutes, or until they’re tender. Allow them to cool before stirring them with eggs, seasonings and other veggies and then baking. (Try it out when making these Egg White Frittata recipes.)

3. Cook them in the broiler.

Make this crispy and caramelized side by first blanching the sliced white and light green parts in boiling water for 2 minutes. Transfer leeks to a water bath and pat dry. Generously drizzle the veggie with oil and sprinkle with salt. Broil on high for 5 to 7 minutes, keeping an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn. Once the leeks are nice and charred, serve hot with chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon. 

2 bonus leek recipes worth making soon

If you’re hungry for more ways to cook with leeks, give these mouthwatering recipes from our test kitchen a try!

Parmesan-Crusted Leeks

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No one will guess this 4-ingredient side is a breeze to whip up, thanks to a quick stint in your air fryer.

Ingredients:

  • 8 small leeks, white and green part only, halved lengthwise
  • 4 Tbs. olive oil
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley

Directions:

  • Active: 10 mins
  • Total time: 40 mins
  • Yield: 8 servings
  1. Heat 7-qt. air fryer according to manufacturer’s directions for air fry at 300°F. Coat air fryer basket with cooking spray. Brush cut side of leeks with 3 Tbs. oil; sprinkle with ¼ tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. pepper, then Parmesan.
  2. In batches, place leeks in air-fryer basket; place basket in air fryer. Air fry until leeks are tender and browned, about 15minutes. Transfer to plate; drizzle with remaining oil. Top with parsley.

Spring Pea-Leek Soup

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Hearty potato adds a velvety-smooth texture while spinach gives vibrant color to this dairy-free soup brimming with spring flavors.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbs. oil
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts only, chopped
  • 1 (8 oz.) potato, peeled, chopped
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 1  (13 oz.) pkg. frozen peas
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 2 Tbs. chopped mint + additional leaves

Directions:

  • Active: 20 mins
  • Total time: 50 mins
  • Yield: 4 servings
  1. In pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add leek; cook, stirring often, until softened, 5 minutes. Add potato, chicken broth, ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Over medium-low, cook, stirring occasionally, until potato is tender, 20 minutes.
  2. Add frozen peas; cook until tender, 8 to 9 minutes. Stir in baby spinach and chopped mint. Let cool slightly; in blender, puree until smooth. Return to pot; over low heat, cook, stirring frequently, until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Garnish with mint leaves.

Keep reading for additional tips and tricks to properly cook veggies!

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