Leeks, the Underrated Darling of the Allium Family

Why do onions get all the attention?

Published Mar. 16, 2023.

You wouldn’t think twice about adding a bag of onions to your cart during your weekly grocery shopping trip, but what about leeks? While they’re not as commonly used in recipes as the reliable onion, leeks have a lot to offer. They’re one of the milder members of the allium family (which also includes onions, shallots, scallions, chives, garlic, and ramps). And I love to use them, not in place of onions, but in their very own leek-forward dishes.

Sign up for the Cook's Country Dinner Tonight newsletter

10 ingredients. 45 minutes. Quick, easy, and fresh weeknight recipes.

How to Buy Leeks

Let’s start with shopping. Unlike most other alliums, leeks do not form a bulb, so their shoots are what you want to be eating. The whites are the most tender part, so look for smooth, firm leeks with the longest white parts. The white parts transition into light green parts and finally dark greens. Seek out leeks that still have their dark greens and root ends attached. The greens should look crisp, and the roots should look healthy. Most recipes call for discarding the dark green parts, so you don’t necessarily need them, but buying leeks with those parts intact will ensure that they haven’t dried out (and you can save them for soups and stocks). 


How to Clean Leeks

Before you use leeks in a recipe, you will need to wash them thoroughly since they are grown in sandy soil, and the soil gets trapped in their layers.

There are two ways to clean leeks, depending on the prep called for in the recipe you’re using. 

  1. If you need to keep the leeks mostly intact, trim off the dark greens, split the leeks lengthwise, and rinse them, gently sliding apart their layers to make sure to flush all the soil out. Pat them dry.
  2. If the recipe calls for cutting the leeks in small pieces, trim off the dark greens, split the leeks lengthwise, cut them into pieces crosswise, and then place the pieces in a salad spinner. Fill the salad spinner with water, swish the leeks around with your hands, and pull up the salad spinner basket to drain them. If the leeks are particularly sandy, you can do this again until the water is clean. Then spin them dry.
Washing leeks

How to Cook Leeks

And now for the fun part: cooking the leeks. What I love about leeks is how silky they get when you cook them. Here are some great leek recipes to try.

In our recipes, when we call for leeks, we usually call for them by weight unless we are calling for just 1 leek. In that case, you’ll want to use a medium leek, which weighs about 8 ounces.

Braised Leeks: If you want to try leeks in their simplest form, braising them is the way to go. Our recipe calls for halving the leeks lengthwise (keeping their root ends intact to hold the layers together) and browning them in a little olive oil on the stove. Once they’re all browned, we simmer them in broth until tender. And then we take the braising liquid and turn it into a lively vinaigrette with Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, and garlic. Braised leeks make an elegant side dish.


Braised Leeks

A simple technique brings out the best in this often-neglected vegetable.
Get the Recipe

Creamy Potatoes and Leeks: I don’t want to play favorites, but who am I kidding? I love this dish. A skillet casserole of creamy goodness, it easily straddles those last cold days of winter and the first warm days of spring. To make the leeks super-melty, here we soften them in butter. Then we add Yukon Gold potatoes (cut into pieces) and simmer it all in chicken broth and wine for depth and brightness, respectively. A little cream and some Gruyère cheese add richness that takes this dish into comfort food territory. And a sprinkling of buttery toasted bread crumbs on top brings it home.


Creamy Potatoes and Leeks

This cheesy, bread crumb–topped casserole comes together on the stovetop.
Get the Recipe

Asparagus, Leek, and Goat Cheese Quiche: Because of their mild flavor, leeks pair well with a number of other vegetables, asparagus being one example. Here the two commingle in a brunch-ready quiche that’s enriched with tangy goat cheese.


Asparagus, Leek, and Goat Cheese Quiche

A failproof path to an elegant springtime quiche.
Get the Recipe

How to Store Leeks

Are you ready to stock up on leeks because you are so excited to start cooking with them? You can refrigerate them in an open plastic produce bag for up to a week. If you want to prep and wash the leeks right when you get them home, the prepped leeks will keep for up to four days.

700+ Recipes

Vegetables Illustrated

The best-selling cookbook for anyone looking for fresh, modern ways to add more vegetables to their everyday diet. Covering 70 vegetables, Vegetables Illustrated has you covered for every vegetable and every season.

How to Substitute for Leeks

Unfortunately, you’re not the only one who might be going on a leek shopping spree, so if you find the shelves picked clean, what should you do? Since leeks are very mild, you’ll want to seek out another member of the onion family that is also mild, such as yellow or white onions or chives. In recipes that are all about the leeks, such as our Braised Leeks recipe, there is no substitute. (You’ll just have to wait until they’re back in stock.) And in recipes like Creamy Potatoes and Leeks, you’ll still get onion flavor but you won’t get that silky leek texture throughout. In soups and casseroles where the texture of the leeks is less noticeable, onions will do the trick. (Note that cooking times might need to be adjusted.)

This is a members' feature.