Behind the Recipes

Leeks Take Center Stage

This sweet, tender allium plays the lead in a classic French preparation.

Published Sept. 28, 2021.

Leeks need a new PR campaign, and I might be just the person for the job. The sweetest, gentlest allium is best known to American audiences as a soup ingredient—but its quiet character also permits it to play a leading role without being overpowering. Case in point: France’s leeks vinaigrette, which is simply silky leeks overlaid with a veil of mustardy dressing. Mellow yet piquant, leeks vinaigrette can accompany chicken or fish, but the dish also works well as a main course with some additions, accompanied by a hunk of bread and a glass of wine.

It comes together quickly: Trim and wash the leeks, simmer or steam them until they’re softened, and drizzle them with vinaigrette. Eat them warm or let them sit for hours; they’ll only get tastier as the vinaigrette permeates their layers. Here are some lessons I learned from developing my own recipe. 

Preparing Leeks

1. Buy leeks with 8 to 9 inches of white and light-green parts to reduce waste.


2. Trim the dark-green tops (they are too tough for this quick-cooking recipe), but save them for use in soups and stocks. 


3. Trim the roots, but leave the base intact. It will hold the leek together, and it has a sweet, nutty flavor and a buttery texture when cooked. 

Wash Well

Farmers mound soil around growing leeks to encourage them to develop elegant long, pale stalks, but doing so traps dirt between their concentric layers. Brush any exterior dirt from your leeks before trimming their dark-green tops. Then, starting an inch from the base of each leek, halve them lengthwise and gently open the layers to rinse them under running water. Keep the bases tilted up so that the water washes the dirt out instead of deeper into the layers. 

Don’t Skip the Twine

Though I initially dismissed the traditional practice of tying the halved leeks back together, I realized its purpose when my untied leeks’ layers splayed out haphazardly during cooking. Tidy leeks are more aesthetically pleasing when they’re arranged on a platter, so it’s well worth taking this extra step.

Simmer for More Flavor

Though some cooks advocate steaming to prevent the leeks from becoming waterlogged, submersion in heavily salted water seasons them thoroughly, and any excess water can be expelled by gently squeezing the slightly cooled leeks over the sink. 

Dress Judiciously

Many recipes I tried called for dousing the leeks with vinaigrette. This seemed like a cruel injustice to inflict upon the handsomest member of the onion clan, so instead I spread half of my punchier-than-usual Dijon vinaigrette on the platter before placing the leeks on top. The leeks peeked through the remaining vinaigrette enticingly. A sprinkle of Parmesan-spiked bread crumbs, prepared while the leeks cooled, added contrast to the plate of soft, creamy leeks and vinaigrette. Elevating the dish to a main course is as simple as swapping out the crumbs for crumbled bacon and chopped hard-cooked eggs.

Crispy bread crumbs add texture to the silky leeks.

Leeks Vinaigrette

This sweet, tender allium plays the lead in a classic French preparation.
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