How to Cook Leeks: Cutting, Preparation, and Storage Tips
By Ashia Aubourg
If you’ve watched The Menu, you probably remember the awkward scene when the chef invites Tyler, the self-proclaimed culinary expert, to cook in his prestigious kitchen. Unfortunately, after attempting to assemble a simple leek and lamb plate—and failing spectacularly—Tyler surrendered. No spoilers, but botching the dinner didn't end so well for him.
Luckily for you, though, you don't have to suffer Tyler's fate when faced with those stalky green veggies: Learning how to cook leeks properly is actually pretty easy.
Closely related to onions and garlic, leeks—which look like dark green, stalky leaves connected by a white stem—often are mistaken for larger versions of scallions. Despite its delicious taste and versatile nature, the vegetable doesn't always get a lot of hype. For instance, while you’ve probably heard of potato leek soup, there are actually so many other enjoyable ways to prepare this root, from omelets to stir-frys. Whichever prep you choose, they’re particularly tasty during the summer and fall when they are in season.
Leeks can provide impressive benefits for your health, too, Kelsey Lloyd, MS, RD, LDN, tells SELF. Jam-packed with micronutrients like vitamins C and K, leeks also contain nearly 70 micrograms of vitamin A in just one cup, according to the US Department of Agriculture—that's about 10% of your daily recommended amount. They’re a great source of prebiotics, too, which can help support your overall digestive health, she says.
But before you can reap these benefits, you first should know how to cook leeks effectively so you can make the most out of these magical green giants.
Before you grab that knife, think about your recipe, Frank Costantino, dean of the Culinary Institute of New York at Monroe College, tells SELF. Most recipes call for chopped leeks, but some ask for them whole, and this will influence how you should prep them.
If you’re going the chopped route, you’ll cut the leeks first before cleaning and then dicing. One of the most straightforward ways to cut leeks is similar to how you would slice its cousin, the scallion—the only difference is that you’ll focus on the leek's white stems:
Now, it's time to clean them. Before you start rinsing them off, it's important to think about how leeks are grown. The plant is harvested from sandy soil, and because the vegetable has many different layers, that gritty matter often gets trapped between the leaves. You’ll want to wash all that crud out so you don't end up with a meal full of grime.
Once you have your leeks squeaky clean, dice them into small pieces—again, just like you would a scallion, Costantino says.
If you’ll be working with whole leeks—popular in some recipes simply for aesthetic reasons—your process is going to look a little different.
Now that your leeks are washed and prepped, let's get cooking. Most recipes use the leek's white and light green stems, which is where that mild onion-like taste lives. That's no shade to the dark green leaves because those are edible, too—they just tend to be more bitter. (You don't need to throw them out, though. To cut down on food waste, you can use those darker green tops in homemade vegetable stock, where tartness isn't as much of an issue.)
Soups and stocks are the simplest ways to incorporate leeks, because you’ll simply sauté them and use them as a base. But why not get more creative?
Leeks are great in sautés and stews, for example. In fact, one of the best ways to cook leeks is simmered in some saucy greens like kale, collards, or mustards, Lloyd says. Like garlic and onions, leeks can be thrown into practically anything, baked into a buttery quiche, or caramelized and topped onto some Parmesan risotto.
Just like you would put garlic and onions in a dish to add a sweet and nutty flavor, do the same with leeks. Luckily for you, while consuming raw onions and garlic might be a bit strong for most palettes, this vegetable has a milder flavor, making it perfect for eating uncooked. Try slicing some leek stems and serving it with a crisp olive oil-infused vinaigrette, Costantino says.
Unlike a scallion or an onion, leeks are pretty big. The green vegetables can grow two to three feet tall and spread wider than two inches. And sometimes leek recipes call for only half a cup. So what do you do with the rest of it?
You can store leeks either whole and uncut or prepped and ready to use. Try placing them in your refrigerator where there's some humidity. The best place is the crisper drawer, which helps prolong the shelf life of your fruits and vegetables by keeping the air moist, Costantino says. If your fridge doesn't have a crisper or the leek doesn't fit (yes, they can be that big), wrap it in a paper towel, and then put it in a sealed container or plastic wrap, he says. Refrigerating leeks this way can help them last upwards of two weeks.
When you properly store your leeks, you extend their shelf life, making it possible to use them in a bunch of recipes without worrying about spoilage. That means you’ll have ample opportunity to enjoy them in a whole host of ways. Just don't end up like Tyler—throwing bulky, uncleaned leeks into a pan…yikes!
Related:If you’re going the chopped route, If you’ll be working with whole leeks Related: