How to Prepare Leeks

I hate to generalize, but aside from body-checking anyone in their path, there are other ways that Parisians are different than Americans.

leeks

If you don’t believe me, ask some of the friends I traveled with recently, who have the bumps and bruises to prove it after a plane arrived from Paris and the dining room where we vacationed turned into a game of human pinball.

(But don’t ask Deb about how one fine day, her corner of peaceful tranquility on the beach ended up with her being suddenly surrounded by a mass of noisy new arrivals, who didn’t seem to mind arranging their chairs all around her…when the rest of the three mile-long beach was completely deserted.)

leeks washed leeks

When I lived in America, it was rare to find leeks. Some of you out there in the states are probably thinking; “Leeks? Aren’t those the fancy onion-like things at the supermarket that are expensive?”

Well, yes.


They may cost more than yellow onions, depending on where you live. But here in France, leeks are cheap and plentiful. And used often. When I told Romain that leeks weren’t widely-used in America, he was really surprised, since even the most lowly produce vendor sells leeks and just about everyone at my market seems to have a few sticking out of their market basket.

soup

Anyhow, we Americans do have our green onions (or scallions, as they’re sometimes called) and we use them a lot. They’re cheap, often just two or three bunches cost a buck, but they’re almost impossible to find in France. I think it’s perhaps because we use them raw quite a bit and the harsh taste might be a bit overwhelming. You don’t see too raw onions being served in France as much as you do in the states.

Some people may find leeks intimidating, but I’ve started using them a lot more since I’ve moved to France and love their sweet, mellow taste, and use them much more than yellow onions in my cooking. They do require a bit more preparation, but you don’t have to deal with those papery skins flying all over your kitchen, whichI think is a pretty decent trade off.

The best way to cook leeks is to “sweat” them, which means cooking them in butter and/or oil over pretty low heat until they get soft, but not browned. The French call this fondu, or “melted.” I use part butter, part olive oil, because although the butter adds a wonderful flavor, it can burn if cooked for a long time. So using some oil helps. If you have clarified butter, you could use that, but I don’t keep that on hand.

How To Prepare Leeks

dirty leeks

1. To prepare leeks, cut off and discard the dark green parts that are tough. Or you can wash and use them for stock-making.

2. Trim off the little beards at the bottom.

3. Take a chef’s knife and made a horizontal slice lengthwise. Don’t cut through the end, where the beard was, though. Rotate the leek, and make another lengthwise slice, creating a cross-hatch patter if looking at it from the cut end.

leeks

4. Run the leeks under cold water, or better yet, swirl them around in a basin of water to remove any grit. Some leeks are really dirty and others are pretty clean. So you may need to rinse them in a few changes of water.

(Another technique it to cut the leek into pieces first, and swirl them in water to remove the grit, then drain them well.)

sliced leeks

5. Afterward, towel-dry the leeks and cut them into rounds.

soup

I use leeks as a base for soup and braises and once you do, you’ll find your foods have much more flavor for just a little extra work.

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91 comments

  • It sounds like French leeks are as dirty as US leeks. I use them much, much more in Italy if only because they aren’t so dirt-filled that you have to operate before cleaning them! I grew them once in the US and yes, they get hilled up, covered over in dirt to blanch them, but they do that here, too, and they still aren’t so filthy.

    When you want rings I wash as well as possible, then cut into rings and toss in a big bowl of cold water. Separate them, swish about like a washing machine, then lift out and into a colander. You may want to do it twice to be sure… like spinach takes 3 washes. Just never pour into a colander because you will pour the heavy dirt over the clean leeks.

    I think leeks offer a lot of umami flavors and really, chicken broth just isn’t the same without our green friend. I’ve developed a whole series of leek recipes that capitalize on their particular affinity to potatoes and/or cheeses. Penne with toasted leeks and pecorino? Yes!

  • I can’t imagine leeks as an exotic vegetable! But I live in Wales where one of our national symbols is the leek. And I grew up in Northumberland (bordering with Scotland) where people grow leeks in competition – giant leeks as thick as a man’s leg let alone his arm. It’s a serious business with security in gardens, and big prizes at stake.

    I love leeks and there’s so much more to them than as a substitute for onions. My mother makes a warm leek salad with vinaigrette, they are wonderful in tarts and pies especially with cheese, with pasta (work very well with bacon), in soups, and I remember a recipe for an asparagus mousse wrapped in baby leeks from Raymond Blanc.

  • Leeks exotic? That is strange to me. I have never had trouble finding or using them here in the states, and use them often. There are always lovely huge piles of them at the Farmer’s markets and always to be found at the grocery stores. I must now ask fellow citizens if they use them.

    I will agree they are as dirty as their French counterparts.

    I am also a big fan of Green Garlic which is season right now. Makes for wonderful soup bases as well.

  • Once it finally begins to warm up here in New England, we also have scallions and chives growing the gardens.My neighbors, originally from Italy, gave me some of the scallions from her garden and I planted them and they started growing and spreading immediately. What a real treat!! I find that it helps to rinse off what I picked before I go into the house to cut and use. It is really such a treat to be able to use as much as I want and find interesting recipes and uses for these. I appreciate your technique you described for the leeks, which I’m sure works as well for the smaller versions.

  • I make the fondu quite often too, but I let them go a bit brown. Sometimes I bung the whole lot into a roasting dish with some olive oil & seasonings to wilt and caramelise in a hot oven.

  • This is embarrassing to admit: I have never cooked with a leek. It’s been on my list… I must get some now.

  • Have you considered using ghee to sweat them in?

  • chocolatechic: Yes, I did mention above that folks that have clarified butter on hand could use that, although I don’t keep it around. It always pains me to throw anything away, like the foam that rises to the surface which gets skimmed off, so I don’t make it.

    But I think ghee is available in Indian markets, although I also think it’s something that I’d rather make than buy. (I have such a conflicted life, don’t I?)

  • David – I’ve been using leeks for years, both in New England as well as other locales around the world. They have become one of the staples of my kitchen, along with carrots, shallots, celery, onions, etc. If you’re looking to cut some of the fat out of your cooking, a great way to sweat your veggies without losing anything on taste, is to use just a bit of oil, a bit of salt and cover it on low heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring every now and then. This also adds a lovely steam to the air, just for effect. :)

  • When I first used leeks in France, a friend instructed me to cut off and discard all but the white part. It seemed like such a waste to throw out all of the green part. I tried it, and it was quite tasty so I’ve continued to eat the whole leek ever since.

  • Oh, and a wonderful use for leeks is to steam and puree them with sweet potatoes, fresh ginger, a bit of pumpkin pie spices, butter, cream and salt and pepper. Adding parsnips is also nice.

  • i can smell the leeks from here. my grandparents grew them in their farm so every sunday when we visted, we left with bags full of leeks. my dad’s car ALWAYS smelled like leeks. we ate them at least three time a week. we put them in everything. there is a very popular dish in the basque country called “porrusalda” which means broth of leeks. it is soup/stew of potatoes and leeks and squash. oh nostalgia…

  • i can smell the leeks from here. my grandparents grew them in their farm so every sunday when we visited, we left with bags full of leeks. my dad’s car ALWAYS smelled like leeks. we ate them at least three time a week. we put them in everything. there is a very popular dish in the basque country called “porrusalda” which means broth of leeks. it is soup/stew of potatoes and leeks and squash. oh nostalgia…

  • Jake: You could also use some chicken or vegetable stock, which is another good way to add flavor without extra oil or butter.

    And I love parsnips, although unlike leeks, they’re very hard to find in Paris, unfortunately.

  • Here in Northern Spain leeks are a common winter vegetable. Bigger ones are great in a soup (leeks, onion and potato slightly sweated in butter, a good vegetable broth, a pinch of pepper and, optionally, some fresh cream just before serve), but I prefer younger ones, thin and tender as green asparagus. I love them simply steamed for a couple of minutes, enough to cook them but mantaining its firm, almost crunchy texture and served with some diced boiled egg, cashews (or walnuts as a substitute), fresh parsley and a good extra virgin olive oil.

  • I think leeks have become more common place these days. I live in Montana(US) and can find leeks even at Walmart. Or maybe I just love cooking so I noticed them…Now I will have to see how many of my cohorts use leeks in their cooking. (And yes they are as dirty here as they appear to be in France)

  • You know what else I don’t get? Why are shallots so expensive here in the States? They are actually much easier to grow than onions, but cost that earth. If I get my act together in October, I’ll try to grow some of my own next year to keep costs down.

  • It’s the same for me: I never cooked with leeks when I lived in the states but now that I’m in Italy I use them all the time. When I go back to the states the leeks are so – sad, really….just small and limp, not thick and sturdy like I’m used to! And yes, I too miss green onions, altho I do have better luck finding them at the German-based markets like Lidl and Penny Market.

  • So you make lengthwise cuts along the leek, creating “ribbons” that are all attached at one end (the bulb end, where the beard was). Then swish in water until clean.

    Thanks for writing this. I watch a lot of Food Network, and see leeks used often by the TV chefs. They always say “leeks can be gritty, so clean them well” but they never show the correct way to prepare and clean them. Now that I can do this, I’ll be sure to use them often. Again, thanks!

  • We’re very “Middle-America” here in Western Pennsylvania but I buy leeks at Wal-mart all winter and we grow them in the summer. I even have a few out in the garden that survived this winter’s -10F temps. I will admit however that some of my neighbors consider them a bit exotic and the cashier at the store often asks me if they’re “giant green onions.”

  • Leeks rare in the U.S.? Are you off your rocker?

    Everywhere I’ve lived in the U.S. (MI, PA, DC, NY) I’ve never had any problem locating leeks at any kind of supermarket (for at least two decades).

  • I love to use leeks in stock making, soups and in just about everything. I’m one ugly American who has embraced the leek. (And from the comments, it seems like there are a bunch of us). I even talked a lady into buying some at the grocery store a few weeks ago!

    Thanks for this Ode to the Leek. I think they are underutilized in America, and I’m trying to spread the Gospel of the Leek!

  • No such thing as a too raw onion! Most people overcook the crap out of them, making me sad.

    Onion sandwiches are yummy.

  • I’d say leeks are very common at my local grocery stores where always have huge piles of them. Two of my favorite uses of leeks are: sauteed sliced pork with leeks and potato corn leek soup.

  • I love leeks and use them often. One of my favorites is a vegetable pizza layered with fresh baby spinach, sautéed leeks and asparagus with thyme, and topped with crumbled goat cheese. I live in New England and agree leeks are becoming more common and I can find them at almost any supermarket. Yes, they are sandy here too.

  • When I was living in the US (Utah) 10-15 years ago, there was no leeks whatsoever to be found, and I missed it terribly! What’s a soup without leeks?? Then, I moved to Indiana and started finding some, from time to time, but I laughed every time I was buying some because the ladies at the counters would never know what it was and I had to tell them and explain them… I felt pretty exotic in those days.

    The dark green part is also good when you make a leek/potato soup, it gives it a nice green color and you need to use a mixer anyway so you won’t find it “tough” :) And poireaux à la crème are famous, too, in France, yummy!!

  • David/Chocolate Chic – I actually found Ghee at Whole Foods…You just gotta really look for it (tends to be on the lower shelves)…

    I’ve only cooked leeks once…But thanks for teaching me your method…it may come in handy! Leeks are pretty common place around my area (Northern IL)….I’ve never really known exactly how to “use” leeks except for soup stocks…

  • Blimey – fancy Americans not knowing much about leeks! They are such a marvellous vegetable particularly combined with a cheese such as Caerphilly in a little tart! I shall make some this very weekend – thanks for putting me in mind of the combination.

  • Okay – I will back up your statement that leeks can be rare in the U.S.! Perhaps (most likely) it is because I live in the middle of nowhere but I can only find leeks at one store if I’m lucky and I usually buy them out because they will only have 2 or 3 bunches. Even Wallmart doesn’t have them here.

    That being said I think leeks are wonderful and use them every chance I get. We’ve been making a pinot noir braised salmon over leeks that is really delicious. They are terrific in soups, and I think provide a more complex flavor than the small green onions.

  • Leeks are from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Turkey, Israel and has existed for at least 4000 years. In ancient times it was used medicinally and as food. In the Middle Ages, apart from famine and diseases such as plague many people. The largest consumer and producer is France.
    I love Leeks , especially Quiche and vichyssoise

  • Leeks are delicious, braised.. Try it !!

  • I’ve been reading your blog for several months, and I finally have to delurk and comment.

    Up until last year, I’d never cooked with leeks. I decided to try making potato-leek soup, and oh, what a disaster! First, I had no idea how to “handle” the leeks, so I spent forever cleaning them, then chopped up everything but the very tip of the white end. I threw in the potatos and other ingredients, and not thinking, added cream immediately instead of waiting until the end. What a mess.

    Then I saw Jacques Pépin have his way with a leek on his PBS cooking show, and I decided to climb back into the saddle. Bought some more leeks, made the soup again (remembering to hold off on the cream), and voilà! Perfect. Now I find excuses to cook with leeks…can one be smitten with leeks?

    Also, I’m quite proud of myself that I, too, thought to add some oil to my butter for sweating vegetables. I feel validated as a home cook!

  • Another Welshie piping in – we’re supposed to wear them in our hats on our patron saints day (who is, incidentally St David). If you don’t have a hat, a lapel will do.

    When not wearing a leek in my hat, leek and potato soup is a firm favourite as well as creamed leeks with fish, in a cheesy tar or quiche, terrine… so many lovely options. There’s a Welsh saying that a Welshman should wear a leek not only in his hat, but also in his heart. We,love them that much ;-)

  • Interesting timing…I cut up a bunch of leeks last night. I usually cut them first and then swish them around in water, and then a salad spinner so they stay crisp, and I can keep them in the fridge to use up over the course of a few days. Although the only way I usually eat them is with eggs – on top of scrambled, in an omelette, or frittata with radishes. Monotonous, but delicious.

  • I have to chime in again… not about the scarcity of leeks in the US or on different methods of preparation, but on sourcing methods deemed appropriate by my fellow readers (three, at last count). Wal-Mart?!? I’m sorry, but I don’t think I would touch anything not double-wrapped in plastic from Wal-Mart (and even then, only as an absolute last resort). If you’ve ever wondered how spinach can be dangerous, just look at the process of how a bunch of leeks gets from the “farm” onto the shelves at big-box stores like Wal-Mart. Politics aside, please just use your head and do everything you can to find out where your food is coming from, otherwise you risk who knows what (not to mention you aren’t truly appreciating your food’s full potential in taste and quality). Wal-Mart for food?!?

  • Of course, there’s the flip side to Romain’s shock about Americans and leeks: When I lived in Paris, celery was expensive and considered fancy, which was pretty hilarious to this American cook.

  • i get beautiful leeks from my farm share and at the many markets in the seattle area.

  • I agree 100% that leeks add amazingness to any recipe. OK, almost any recipe. I really wish they were more of a staple here. My favorite recipe that features leeks is Julia Child’s waterzooi. The recipe is easy to find online. Or, you know, hop a train up to Belgium (there’s a direct Thalys train to Brugge 3 or 4 days a week) and eat at the source. (And have a speculaas filled chocolate for me)

  • I love leeks. One of the vegetables I loved as a kid too. I guess I have always found them in the US without any trouble – maybe because the Americans aren’t buying them because they don’t know what to do with them?

  • Krysalia: No chopped hard-cooked eggs? It’s just not poireaux-vinaigrette without them!

    Jake: I had no idea Wal-Mart even carried fresh produce. Aside from the availability of leeks, I guess a few other things have changed..

  • I love leeks! They are definitely under-appreciated here. My favorite is to saute them and use them as part of a quiche or braise along-side of chicken. The flavor is like an undertone, and very lovely.

  • If people stateside have a hard time finding leeks, any Asian supermarket should carry tons of the stuff.

    My family (we’re Canto) usually takes chopped up leeks, scrambles them with eggs, and frys them to make little leek and egg pancakes (a little bigger than sand dollar sized). Eat them with Sriracha and Maggi and they’re quick and delicious.

  • I love leeks! They make soups etc taste so much better. I get a lot of them in my CSA basket at certain times of the year, and I am always sad when they stop coming.

  • And I agree with Jake… Wal-mart for food?!!? My veggies come straight from the farm.

  • To all of you purloining WalMart for food.

    It apparently hasn’t occurred to any of you that on occasion, Wal-Mart is the only game in town for food. I won’t go into the reasons why, but in many small towns in rural America, there isn’t any other choice. It’s kind of amazing that Wal-Mart offers something that 10 years ago was exotic and hard to find.

    I’ve bought leeks at WalMart — every time because my regular grocery store didn’t have them — and yes, I asked the produce guy if they had any in the back! and I’m going to have a very hard time buying that by the time they’ve been cleaned and cooked properly, that they’re going to be any more injurious to anyone’s health than leeks bought at Publix, Kroger, March, or any other giant grocery chain.

    Just because it’s rural doesn’t mean that they grow a wide variety of produce — sure, there’s tomatoes, and iceberg lettuce, and cucumbers, but anything other than mainstream veggies just aren’t always grown in every neck of the woods.

    There’s also things to consider like how far someone has to drive to get to a place to buy food, and oh yes — not just everyone has room or ability to grow a garden.

    There are plenty of places that don’t have wonderful farmer’s markets or roadside stands.

    And –newsflash — times are tough. There are people who have to make the choice between buying their produce at WalMart or forgoing produce. Not everybody has the option of buying organic — sometimes just having it on the table at all is a luxury.

    So get off your high horse — some people don’t have a choice — for a lot of reasons, and you don’t have the right to question their sanity or the legitimacy of their birth because of it.

  • I’ve had a minor obsession with leeks ever since I found out my grandfather was Welsh around the age of 10. I begged my mom to put them into everything. Thankfully, I grew up in Washington which is prime leek growing territory so they were plentiful and we had them in everything. This revelation also sparked a love affair with rarebit that continues to this day.

  • Okay, I have nothing substantive to add about your leek entry. I do, however, wish to point out to all those who feign such outrage at your assertion of availability in the U.S.

    Seriously people, try to think back farther than last week. Even just ten years ago, U.S. supermarkets were a vastly different place. There weren’t nine kinds of lettuce offered, there weren’t 43 different olive oils. Supermarkets have come a long way in the last decade. They’ve come so far that it is apparently hard to remember a time when it wasn’t always so much variety offered.

    The vast bulk of this trend to “upmarket” regular stores has happened AFTER David moved away. (Not to speak for you, or anything…sorry.)

    I’m not talking about specialty places (Whole Foods, Alfalfas, Balducci’s et al), but just plain jane supermarkets…Safeway, Giant, Jewel.

    And shriek all you want, but neither the Safeway nor Giant near my house have leeks, as of a half hour ago.

  • Nothing wrong with leeks in any dish. We just cooked with them for the first time. So easy!

  • David, I love that you included washing instructions!!

    I always give my produce a “bath,” and some folks think it’s really strange. To me, it’s just common sense, and it saves water, too. There is no better way to wash berries, grapes, cruciferous vegetables, roots, stalks, or leafy greens.

    I never understood how people could run a quick spritz over their produce and consider it ready to consume. Although, admittedly, I have OCD about washing both produce, and my hands. Fellow melon washer that I am. (Melons… winter squash… citrus… avocados…)

    Yes. It’s true. I need help.

    XOXOXOX,

    ~ Paula

  • I was reading the label of my kosher salt the other day (I read while I cook, can’t help it) and it suggested filling the sink half full of water and adding 1/4 cup (maybe it was a cup?) of kosher salt to help clean veggies like leeks and spinach. I’m not near my kitchen so I don’t have the exact directions, but I found the idea to be bizarre. I’ll swish and repeat as much as needed– don’t need any extra sodium leaking into my food!

  • I didnt even know walmart had produce… That is why I said “Walmart for food?!”. Nobody is ‘questioning the sanity’ of people who shop there.

  • That is a great leek-washing trick. I don’t know why I never thought of that. And it’s handy, because like you, since I’ve been living in France I use leeks all the time. I moved here from a part of the US where leeks were often $1 per leek. When I tell that to French people they insist that I’m exaggerating, mais non. The wide availability of cheap leeks is one of the reasons I don’t like the thought of leaving France!

  • When I lived in America I bought leeks and shallots weekly and almost every time the check out guy/girl would ask what they were then spend 5 minutes looking up the price code. If I was really lucky they would ask what I would do with them. After a while, I memorized the code so I could ensure a speedier check out.

    And the leeks I buy have sand all the way through so I cut them into half moons first and drop them into a bowl of water. The sand goes to the bottom and the leeks float to the top. I am sure I learned this from a TV chef at some point.

    I am sure you know David, but for you readers, in Paris you can find scallions at the larger Asian markets or many of the Asian marche stands. I never thought about why they are so scarce here in Paris, but I am sure you are right. And did you know scallions are responsible for a considerable amount of food poisoning in the US? They seem so harmless.

  • Walmart has “Super Walmarts” that include grocery and produce sections with lots of items that I can’t find in my other local grocery stores. Nothing wrong with that in my neighborhood in Alaska. Leeks are lovely and readily available up here in the frosty north and would get a good washing even when purchased at the organic farmer’s market in the summer.

  • Since you’ve mentioned that if you were to use ghee, you’d make your own… I offer this tip: Make browned butter ghee. Brown the butter before skimming the solids and the ghee will be way better than anything you could buy in the store.

  • For a lovely first
    I clean young leeks, poach
    Cool.
    Roast one red pepper per leek, peel, seed and cool.
    Dress both with vinaigrette,
    Sit a few hours.
    Arrange, on individual plates, and serve. Yum

  • One of my fondest memories of the Julia and Jacques partnership on TV was their leek argument. Jacques was cutting and Julia said that one NEVER used any of the green parts of the leek, especially for Vichyssoise. Jacques said something along the lines of “lighten up, dude”.

    I clean leaks by making two lengthwise cuts in the leeks (after cutting off a lot of the green), holding them under running water and then slapping them against the side of the sink. I repeat this probably more times than necessary because it’s such a great release of tension. “Take THAT, you dang leeks! We’ll see who’s boss around here!”

  • My favorite leek recipe begins with:
    “First, you take a leek……….”

  • Dear David:
    A few weeks ago I was invited to a French girlfriend’s house (here in So Cal) for a “typical French dinner”. It happened to be offal night…cheeks, brains, organs and parts of pigs I didn’t even know were edible… goopy innards I was instructed to spread with a knife upon artisanal breads, and, um, eat. I did so, out of politesse, and survived my gastronomic adventure only with the aid of copious amounts of wine. I was comforted by other savvy members of the dinner party with assurances such as “this is an acquired taste” but silently longed for you guessed it, a classic bistro version of the sublimely simple, homey, leek and potato soup. Next day at the farmers market I grabbed leeks and fingerling potatoes, and served up fragrant bowls of soup, garnished with snips of chives from my potted herb garden and dollops of creme fraiche. I make pot pies with leeks, I grill them, split nearly in half and basted with EVO…accompanied by a juicy steak. Oh, yum, leeks!

  • Moderngirl….poetry!

    My kid asks for leeks regularly — favourite food? Chicken and leek pie (which actually has big chunks of ham, too) — and my husband of a certain age finds that not only are leeks more flavorful than onions, but that they are far more congenial to his tummy than onions.

  • Paula: I wash melons, too!

    Stephanie: Yes, I buy scallion in Asian markets, although they are quite expensive. I wrote about them in my kimchi recipe. I did see one bunch at my market a few weeks ago, at the biodynamic stand, which were €2.

    Tut-tut: Most stores—at least in America ; ) would like business so no matter where you shop, if you ask them to carry something, then buy it when they do, that’s a good way to improve their quality and/or selection.

    When I lived in San Francisco, I asked the manager at my local Safeway to carry Rumford baking powder and ScharffenBerger chocolate, and soon enough, they started carrying both. A friend of mine was a manager at another Safeway told me to do that—and it worked!

    valentine: Supermarkets in America have definitely changed, although a lot of it just has to do with where you are, I suppose. Although I’ve visited the Central Market stores in Texas and the Dorothy Lane Markets in Ohio, whose selection of goods will blow away any misconceptions about the quality of food in middle America.

    And places like Whole Foods, while not perfect (and rather expensive) were only a dream a decade or so ago. Now, even Safeway has local and organic products. Who’d a thunk it??

  • Sorry, I wasn’t clear — I bought leeks at WalMart when my regular store was *out* of them…they officially carried leeks, but there was a fairly sizeable British community in the town, and the store (for whatever reason) never managed to reckon that if they sell out every single week, the day after the delivery arrived, that maybe…just maybe…they should stock a few more…! If something happened that you couldn’t get to that store the day the delivery was made, you’d have to plan on finding them somewhere else.

    and Sam, the comment wasn’t aimed at you — your comment was fairly neutral…but Jake’s definitely wasn’t.

  • Leeks are used a lot in the Turkish cuisine. My favorite is a cold dish cooked with virgin olive oil. Fry the onions until transparent, then let the leeks,carrots and a bit of rice cook slowly in lemon juice. yummy..
    Another alternative is again leek+carrot but with chicken and in tomato sauce.
    And my kids’ favorite is ‘borek’ which is simply leeks cooked with minced meat and herbs rolled in phyllo pastry.

  • I LOVE leeks. I cook with them all the time here in the states (well at least in the winter time). I get them in my CSA box of produce weekly. I would rather have them than any old onion (other than maybe Vadalias) any day. They taste so much better and are not so overpowering. Guess what I am going to grow in a pot next winter–leeks and my other absolute favorite–Tuscan Kale. YUM!

  • Totally unrelated to this post! I love reading your posts, but don’t comment (food blogs are my narcotic of choice!)
    I just read your update on Maida Heatter’s popovers on the NY Times website (which will probably be in this Sunday’s NY Times Magazine) and wish I could go home and make them IMMEDIATELY. My family loves popovers, but I don’t make them all that often. These sound light, lovely and will most definitely be on tomorrow morning’s breakfast table. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • I never used leeks in my cooking before last summer, when I got them almost every week in my CSA box. I got hooked on wonderful, simple potato-leek soup. Late in the fall, when I got a hankering for the soup, I went to the grocery store to buy some and was shocked by how expensive they were! One small non-organic bunch was going to cost about $6 (by comparison, our CSA share costs us about $10 per week). I ended up making a potato, broccoli, and cheddar soup instead, and now I’m counting down the weeks until the leeks are back in our box. Your beautiful pictures are making me crave them even more.

  • Any simply cooked fish fillet served atop a mound of leeks cooked in cream = heaven! One of the easiest things one can come up with to impress dinner guests. Yes, it’s fattening, but I don’t expect that anyone is going to eat it every day. Since the leeks are going to be cut up anyway I just halve or quarter them according to David’s instructions, then slice the useful parts (can be quickly done with sharp scissors) into a sink of cold water. Do it a little early and let them dry in a colander. I seldom find much dirt in the ones I buy at my local chain grocery store, but one can’t be too careful. One little bit of grit can spoil a whole dish.

  • While we keep onions on hand during the winter, leeks are in season this time of year and I try to cook with them as often as possible. I often just roast them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Like your fondu, they seem to melt on the inside, while turning crisp on the outside. Just lovely.

  • My previous comment was spurred more from the “are you kidding?!?” variety of posts to your assertion that leeks are not necessarily mainstream. It just seemed to me that the indignation and protestation was a little much and your original post didn’t possibly deserve that.

    Such as (but not limited to): Leeks rare in the U.S.? Are you off your rocker?

    (Really? Because we all live in identical places?)

    I live on the east coast now but have spent an inordinate percentage of my days in flyover states. Not everyone’s experience is identical and I was just trying to point out that the vitriol seemed a smidge much.

    For what it is worth, I live in a pretty nice area outside DC (Old Town) and failed to score leeks for my chicken. I found them eventually, but at least in the nation’s capital, it wasn’t a slam dunk. Maybe people could dial back the outrage.

  • hi valentine: I’m used to people asking me if I’m “off my rocker”!
    ; )

    America is such a huge place and there’s so much stuff everything, that people often forget that not everything is available everywhere. I was surprised at how many people reacted that I found leeks to be relatively obscure in America, which was mostly in relation to how they’re so common in France.

    That’s what’s so interesting for me about the blog, the interaction, and I think whatever we can all do to promote more leek-age in the world, the better!

  • David…I appreciated your post on leeks. When I lived in the midwest, I agree, it was very hard to find leeks, unless you went to a “specialty” store and then you would pay 3x’s the amount.

    Now, living in New York, I find the most unusual variety of produce…that is available all year long, price varying of course. But I think in this area, there are so many foreign home cooks…they demand it. Any and all types of cooking, from around the world, are available in NYC. So, I can go to any small kiosk fruit market, or even the regular “supermarket” and pick up leeks, kumquats or a plethora of fresh spices in giant bunches.

    I used leeks just this week…cut julienne, saute with oil, yellow squash, fresh dill chopped and sour cream with touch of butter. It was a beautiful side to pan seared salmon.

    Love reading your recipes and “how to”…Lilly

  • Herkule Leeks? There’s a name Agath Didn’t think about.
    Jokes aside, Jewish Sepharadi people have this delicious dish called “Prasa” =leeks in Ladino. After cleaning and cutting the leeks in to thiny rings, they cook them and then drain and mix with minced meat, bread crums or a soaked slice of white bread, eggs, p&s and fry them in oil, serving with a wedge of lemon. I myself cook them for passover: 4 leeks, 4 Mazzot, 4 eggs, p&s. Pour the hot water drained from cooking the leeks on the Mazzot to soften them, cut the leeks even thinyer after cooking, mix everything and fry in oil. They are delicious. Kids like them especially.

  • D, your laudable patience is one of the many reasons why you are apparently beloved throughout the land.

    More leek-age? Ah, that “depends”…

  • Ramps are America’s native leek. They grow in the mountains of southeast America, and are the subject of culinary festivals when the season comes. Taste-wise, they’re like a gamy cross between scallions and leeks.

    I use leaks in my own cooking a lot, and never have trouble finding them in San Francisco, but I agree that leek usage in the USA is a tiny fraction of what it is in France.

    Luckily, my onion and garlic-phobic grandmother not only accepts leeks in her food, but actively enjoys them, so when I cook for her I don’t have to be completely without alliums.

  • Just yesterday I had a leek and mushroom omelet, using leeks from my garden. I don’t have the gritty dirt problem in my leeks that other do because my soil is not sandy and I use leaves to mulch them.

  • Last week I made a lovely frittata with leeks, yukons, and andouille. I think I dolloped in some greek yogurt and chevre. The leeks available in the stores hereabouts frequently weren’t hilled up properly and are a poor value. I have heard you can get a relatively quick crop by planting an inch or so of the root end.

  • Tut-Tut – It appears you’re looking to get a rise out of me, but I’ll try and resist. My comment wasn’t intended as an insult to those who buy produce at Wal-Mart, rather as an insult for anyone who shops for anything at Wal-Mart. I am not on a high horse, I’m not very well off and I don’t drive a car that is newer than 10 years old. However, my priorities lie with what I put into my body. I also don’t spend $100 a month on cable TV, use a microwave or take antibiotics without offsetting their affects with probiotics. Therefore, I have a bit more money to spend on food, if it is necessary to get what I want. I like to know that my meat doesn’t contain its own antibiotics, that my veggies haven’t been radiated (this soon may be a reality) and the fact that Wal-Mart destroys the economic base of a community apparently doesn’t seem to come into your thought process. Tut-Tut – Two things to watch: “How to Get Fat Without Really Trying” was a report done by Peter Jennings years ago on food quality and “Wal-Mart: The Hight Cost of Low Price” an eye-opening documentary that should make you sick to your stomach if you still shop at Wal-Mart. Have I ever shopped there? Yes. Have I felt guilty every time? Yes. I now understand that there is always an alternative.

    David – I apologize if this has sabotaged your post on leeks, but I feel that if your readers are concerned about the scarcity of a particular (and wonderful) food, that at least they don’t compromise their health just to eat this food.

  • I didn’t realize leeks were so controversial! ; )

    I’m fine with folks disagreeing with each other in the comments although I really don’t want to have to police people: I hate the idea of editing or deleting comments since I believe in the free discourse of ideas but just to let everyone know that future comments may be edited.

    So while diverse thoughts and opinions are welcome, I think it’s best for all to remember the #1 rule of blogs: Pretend you’re a guest in someone’s house (ie: mine…although my apt is a bit cramped for all of you) and speak to me and others how you would accordingly.

    I recognize the diversity of people who read the site; economically, racially, and geographically, and we all face challenges. Once again, I’m thrilled to have so many passionate voices speak up but I do think it’s best for all concerned if the discussions stay on course and not single out any one in particular, as I know that things online can get out of hand and I’d like to avoid that.

    Thanks! -David

  • We have gorgeous leeks here in Maine…year round! I do have to rush to get them sometimes before the restaurant owners in town gather them all up. At the summer farmer’s markets the organic ones are big and bulbous and tasty. One of the staples in my kitchen is a light Tarte Saint Germain which friends request when I invite them over for brunches.
    I also tend towards leeks and shallots when I make stocks and soups. The flavor is just sublime in pureed sweet potato and butternut squash soup.

    Loved reading your take on Maida Heatter’s popover recipe. We used to have popovers as kids on the weekends, but I haven’t had them in years

  • It is SO true, about the body-checking. I really REALLY have to restrain myself from reacting to it, even pushing people away – attempting to teach people what I consider personal spacing…but then I remember when in Rome…(so to speak…) and go with the flow, kind of. ;-)

    I have always wanted to cook with leeks in the U.S. but found the cost prohibitive to getting too attached to using them. Here in the NL – they are bountiful, clean (hydroponically grown?) and cheap. I have made your soup often…YUM!

    Always, you are a delight to read!

  • Thanks for the lesson. Leeks, turnips, parsnips are not the mainstream foods my mother cooked so learning how to prep them is so helpful.

  • A life without leeks wouldn’t be worth living! They’re very popular and common in Britain, too. My mum used to make an amazing dish of leeks in cheese sauce, with breadcrumbs, golden brown and crispy from a brief period under the grill. Mmm. And leek and potato soup, is there any better comfort food? Plenty of herbs, really good heritage potatoes, and proper chicken stock… yum.

    Just a word to leek-novices: DON’T LET THE LEEKS BROWN. You can let onions brown to get a particular flavour but if you let leeks brown in the same way you will find that your soup, stew etc. has a really horrid bitter taste. I’ve ruined a few batches of soup carelessly like this so watch out.

  • I love leeks and never, ever have trouble finding them. Ever. Did I say never? And they’re enormous. I’ll have to try your method. I slice them into discs, put them in a larger strainer, and then push through the rings under a spray of water. It’s a Zen thing. Maybe.

  • There appears to be a huge disconnect between the way leeks are grown in the U.S. and in Europe. Very often I am faced with gigantic leeks at $2.99 a pound which only have one to two inches of white available. Since the rest is not used unless you are into making a lot of stock, that makes them very expensive indeed.
    I remember being reduced almost to tears seeing beautiful leeks with a good 10 inches of white on them in a street market in Paris in December!

  • Hello, I hail from South Carolina:
    I’d just like to add my comment regarding leeks to say that when I tried them for the first time about 2 years ago, I was looking for something to prepare for dinner during our annual church fast. I shop mostly at Wal-Mart and inspite of the other commentator who is against shopping for food at Wal-Mart, I was pretty impressed with the selection.

    I used the leeks for the first time by adding potatoes, carrots and onions in a gravy served over rice. It was a hit! I’m searching now for more ways to utilize them, and so far, I will be trying it out in a leek soup this weekend. Apparently they are in big supply here where I live. I think they display them according to certain seasonal months. It’s June and they’re in the store now at Wal-Mart! They were not limp, but large and robust the last I saw them.

  • I used to work a restaurant that used leeks and I loved the flavor but never thought of trying to cook with them (I was 24). So when I saw a recipe in my BJ’s Club magazine for cheesy potato corn chowder I thought that leeks would add a nice compliment to the soup. I am also tweaking the recipe by adding some bacon (bacon always make stuff better). I wouldn’t call myself a great or adventurous cook but more of a utilitarian cook with moments of adventure. Although, I am well known for my broasted meat based soups!

    Anyway thanks for providing instructions on leeks!

  • I realize this entry is a year old but I just wanted to chime in that I was pleasantly surprised last time I was in Wal-Mart to see LOCAL produce. As in, the same peaches from the farm in Grimes that sells them out the back of their truck 10 blocks from my apartment. Change is good.

  • Please tell me if I can use the entire Leek in blending vegetables for juice. Does it have to be cooked first?

  • Like onions, leeks should be cooked before blending. Also to soften their tough fibers.

  • Ahh, thanks for the leek-cleaning tips! I don’t cook with leeks as often as I’d like because I don’t like using so much water (here in the American West, we dip in and out of drought), but the swishy method is perfect :)