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From Shaft to Leaf, Use the Whole Leek

Here are some tips for preparing leeks for cooking, as well as some ideas for using them in recipes

To get the grit out, first slice the leek in half lengthwise . . .

The leek has long been a yeoman among vegetables, but in my kitchen it’s noble. I find its sweet, seductive onion flavor irresistible. Leeks don’t engage in a power struggle with other vegetables, as do garlic and onion. Yet they can take the lead in dishes and deliver a strong performance as the key ingredient. A young leek is more tender and sharper in flavor than an old one, which tends to be stringy but sweet.

There’s no crying involved when trimming leeks, but there is definitely dirt. To get the grit out, slice the leek in half lengthwise and rinse each half under cold water, flipping the layers with your thumb as you would a deck of cards so the water runs in between.

. . . then rinse each half under cold water. Riffle the layers with your thumb so the water runs in between. Photos: Boyd Hagen

Many cookbooks advise you to discard the green part of the leek, but I disagree. The first few inches of green not only have a lovely color but taste just as good as the white shank, although they do require cooking. Slice these greens and soften in butter to make a bed for pork, veal, or fish, or blanch them and add to winter salads. I like to fry thinly shredded green blades in hot oil and sprinkle them into a frizzy nest on top of leek soup. You can also enclose herbs in a green leek blade and tie them into a packet for a bouquet garni.

Halved lengthwise, the long wide layers of the leek can be separated and blanched, then used to wrap around goat cheese and herbs for a fresh, healthful hors d’oeuvre, or to line a meat or vegetable terrine. Thinly sliced crosswise into half-moons or into 2-in.-long matchsticks, leeks can be added raw to salads or sautéed in butter as a side dish. Use them as you would onion or garlic in the base of a stew or soup. Boiled leeks marinated with fruity olive oil and chopped herbs are sublime.


This article originally appeared in Kitchen Gardener #11.

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