Melted, fried and pickled: learn how to cook leeks using our favorite methods!
All my culinary school textbooks defined mirepoix as equal parts leeks, onions, carrots and celery. These ingredients were the building blocks for most French cooking, including soups, stocks and sauces.The instructors warned us that many commercial kitchens don’t use leeks anymore, so we should get used to using two parts onions as a substitute. It was true: in my entire professional chef career, I rarely used leeks unless they were specifically featured in a dish. After all, you can’t make something called potato and leek soup without them!
Even though they’re not commonly used, it’s definitely worth learning how to cook leeks. They’re sweeter the other members of the allium family, with a mild, almost garlic-like flavor that lacks the sharp bite (and eye-watering aroma) associated with onions. They also hold their texture well, creating a soft-yet-firm eating experience when cooked properly.
How to Prepare Leeks
First thing’s first: what part of the leek can you eat? The edible portion is the white and light-green part around the base of the leek. As soon as the leaves turn dark green, they become tough and fibrous. Remove the tops and toss them in the freezer; they will be a great addition to your stockpot the next time you make broth.
Next, unlike other types of onions, you really need to clean leeks before cooking them. They grow in sandy ground, and that grit loves to wedge in between all the layers. The easiest way to clean them starts with removing the stem end and slicing the leek in half lengthwise to expose all the layers inside. Place the leek under cold, running water, shuffling the layers to give the water access to any dirt that may be clinging to the interior. Then, slice or dice the leek according to your recipe. Get our complete how-to guide here.
How to Cook Leeks
This is my number one, absolute favorite way to prepare leeks. Like caramelized onions, they literally melt in your mouth as you eat them, but they take significantly less time to create. They taste fantastic as a steak topper, on pizzas instead of onions or folded into mashed potatoes. If you have any leftovers, add them to egg dishes, toss a handful into mac and cheese or use them as an ingredient in power bowls.
- Slice your cleaned leeks into 1/4-inch half moons and pat them dry with a paper towel.
- In a medium saucepan, add a few tablespoons of unsalted butter and melt it over medium-low heat.
- Add the sliced leeks and a pinch of salt before covering the pan. Let the leeks cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until they’re soft and wilted, anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. If the leeks look dry and sticky when you stir them, add a splash of olive oil.
Test Kitchen Tip: Butter adds a ton of flavor to leeks, but you can make this dish vegan by using olive oil instead.
Add a little texture to your leeks by pan frying them! You don’t even need any flour or coating; the leeks will crisp up on their own. These leeks taste good on just about everything, but we particularly like them on top of a piece of oven-roasted salmon or as a garnish for soups or salads.
- Cut a cleaned leek into julienned, match-stick pieces. The easiest way is to half the leek width-wise (creating two, 2-inch sections). Then, make it easier to lay the layers flat by cutting each section in half lengthwise. Then, proceed with cutting your matchstick pieces.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat an inch of canola oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, carefully add the leeks and fry for 3 to 5 minutes, until they’re crispy and golden brown.
- Remove the leeks to a paper towel-lined plate and season with salt.
Most leek cooking methods soften the leeks, but we want to celebrate the fresh, crunchy flavor of these alliums! You can use pickled leeks on anything that calls for pickled onions. They add texture and a bright acidity to things like chicken salad, avocado toast or meatloaf!
- 2 leeks, cleaned and trimmed
- 1 cup water
- 3/4 cup white wine vinegar
- Juice of one lemon
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Pickling spices of your choosing
- Slice your cleaned leeks into 1/4-inch half moons and place them in a clean pickling jar.
- In a small pot, combine the remaining ingredients and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Pour the liquid over the leeks and tightly seal the jar. Refrigerate for an hour before enjoying, or save them for a later date! They’re good for about a month in the refrigerator.
If you’re not sold yet, learn to love leeks with these 28 fantastic recipes.
I love the challenge of developing recipes for my garden leeks, a delicious underused vegetable. This Italian flavored dish is a family favorite. —Roxanne Chan, Albany, California
I’ve been making these pies for years, so lots of friends and family now have the recipe. If you can’t find leeks, a sweet or mild onion works just as well. —Bonny Tillman, Acworth, Georgia
This savory, non-traditional tart is a favorite among family and friends! —Jean Ecos, Hartland, Wisconsin
Smoky leeks from the grill add punch to this creamy appetizer with veggies and chips. If baby Vidalia onions are available, I use those. —Ramona Parris, Acworth, Georgia
In our house, chicken potpie is a year-round staple. For a springtime feel, we use leeks and mushrooms and a lighter phyllo dough crust. If you don’t have gruyere, try Parmesan. —Andrea Stewart, Toronto, Ontario
My three boys love this recipe, and I even pack it in their school lunches occasionally. I sometimes add ham or sprinkle chopped bacon pieces on top. —Amy Samuel, North Pole, Alaska
The colors of the dish remind me of autumn, my favorite season. Butternut squash is nutritious as well as colorful. This is an example of cooking it a way other than mashed and sweetened. The pork tenderloin medallions are mildly seasoned with rosemary and are very tender.—Louise Nowak, Columbia, Connecticut
In the Pacific Northwest, we make a savory pie with mushrooms and leeks. We prefer chanterelle, but baby portobello or oyster mushrooms will also delight your diners. —Vickie Woods, Salem, Oregon
I love all the ingredients in this recipe because they’re perfect together. Serve the pork and sauerkraut with a hearty dark bread, such as rye or pumpernickel, along with an ice-cold beer. Delicious! —Barbara Lento, Houston, Pennslvania
I received this recipe from my great-grandmother. She brought this over from England, where they enjoyed leeks immensely during the fall and winter. —Suzanne Kesel, Cohocton, New York
This colorful beef dish was always a favorite request for birthday dinners while I was growing up. Savory, special and stuffed full of vegetables, it’s as tender as the memories it still brings back every time I make it. —Julie Etzel, Tualatin, Oregon
I’ve been cooking this strata for years, and my family just can’t get enough! The fresh basil gives this healthy brunch dish an added flavor boost. —Jean L. Ecos, Hartland, Wisconsin.
I was delighted to find golden beets at the farmers market and knew they’d be perfect in a risotto recipe I was working on. And please, don’t forget the baked crispy beet greens…amazing! Move over, main dish! This vibrant side will steal the show. —Merry Graham, Newhall, California
I love to prepare gluten-free and dairy-free dishes, and this recipe meets the criteria when you use gluten-free pasta. This dish shows you can use delicious, healthy products to create a crowd-pleasing meal. It’s also soy-free, nut-free and vegetarian. —Amie Valpone, New York, New York
My vegetarian friend inspired me to create this dish when she was longing for a great Gyro with lots of cucumber. I made this salad instead, with some pita bread for scooping, and it turned out to be a real treat.—Aysha Schurman, Ammon, Idaho
If you’re looking for something special to fix on a holiday, look no further. This velvety soup is accented with tarragon, and the toasted bread topped with melted Brie cheese is the crowning touch. —Marie Hattrup, Sparks, Nevada
Honey mustard is the condiment around here, so I wanted a healthy recipe to serve it with. Roasted turkey with a dash of curry fits the bill. —Carol Witczak, Tinley Park, Illinois
This mellow, rich-tasting onion soup is such a main-stay for our family that I felt compelled to share the recipe. Topped with toasted French bread and melted cheese, it’s special to serve. —Margaret Adams, Pacific Grove, California
My friends and I have been getting together for “ladies lunches” for years. These vol-au-vents are the perfect no-fuss fancy food; they look complicated, but are actually simple and fun to make. Whenever I think of good friends and good company, I think of these savory pastries. —Shauna Havey, Roy, Utah
This is an amazing dish. It’s so easy, yet so elegant. The veggies steam the fish from the bottom, and covering the fillets with a crunchy topping keeps them moist. —Kelly Remington, Arcata, California
Experimenting in the kitchen is a passion of mine. One day I had some scallops and decided to create a scallop cake, which turned out to be a great decision. Both the cakes and aioli sauce can be made the day before, so all you have to do is cook the cakes just before serving. —Iisha Leftridge-Brooks, Sacramento, California
I came up with a cheddar cheese soup a while ago and decided to give it a boost with a variety of root vegetables. Crushed pita chips and fresh parsley make fun garnishes. —Patricia Harmon, Baden, Pennsylvania
With roasted veggies, asiago cheese and plenty of dill, this frittata is packed with spring flavors. It looks impressive, but it’s really a snap to make. —Diane Higgins, Tampa, Florida
This simple side is great for seasonal celebrations. The sherry and orange juice add a unique flavor twist that makes this dish special.—Carole Bess White, Portland, Oregon