Though they look like green onions, leeks have a distinct flavor and are mainly used in soups and broths. This article provides some tips for cooking this vegetable in different ways.
Leeks (Allium porrum) belong to the family of garlic and onion. Unlike onions that form bulbs; leeks are like cylinders of leaf sheaths. The edible portion of this vegetable is its firm, white base. Usually, the dark green leaves are discarded, as they can be slightly woody in texture. Though leeks resemble green onions, they are thicker, longer, and have a more pronounced flavor. While green onions can be eaten raw, mature leeks have to be cooked before consumption. Cooking makes leeks softer and slightly sweeter.
It is a misconception that leeks can be used in soups and broths only. This vegetable can be roasted, stir fried, sautéed, steamed, boiled, or braised. Finely chopped tender leaves can be added to salads. If cooked longer, leeks may turn slimy and mushy. If browned, they may become tough. Undercooked leeks are also inedible. So, this vegetable has to be cooked carefully.
Preparing Leeks for Cooking
You have to purchase fresh leeks and clean them before cooking. Choose thinner ones with firm and unblemished white parts; and bright green, crisp leaves. Avoid stems with a diameter of four centimeters and more, as they have a tough texture.
Remove the base and peel off the outer white layer, along with discolored leaves. Trim the top parts to remove the dark green portions of the leaves. Cut the leeks vertically through the center, and clean them under running water. Slightly pull apart the leaf sheaths, so that the soil trapped inside is removed. Once the vegetable is cleaned, you can cut it according to your requirement. Put the sliced leeks in a colander and clean them once again under running water.
Cooking Leeks in Butter
- Buttered leeks is one of the most popular dishes made of this vegetable. In order to make buttered leeks, you need a pound of leeks, 2½ teaspoons of butter, salt, and black pepper.
- After trimming, there must be around 400 grams of leeks in weight. Clean the trimmed leeks, slit them vertically, and cut into one-inch pieces.
- Turn on the stove and place a frying pan over medium heat. Add butter to the pan and once it melts, put the chopped leeks and seasonings.
- Stir for a few minutes and let the leeks cook uncovered for another 5 to 10 minutes. Make sure to stir them occasionally. Your buttered leeks are ready to serve.
Roasting Leeks in the Oven
Clean the leeks and keep them in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and keep aside. Melt an ounce of butter in a pan, add two tablespoons of flour, and stir well. Once the butter and flour combine evenly, add a tablespoon of grated cheese, half a pint of stock, and salt and pepper (as per requirement). Stir well and boil the mixture for around 4 to 5 minutes. Arrange the leeks on a baking dish and pour half of the prepared sauce over them. Add more grated cheese and sprinkle some cayenne pepper too. Keep the baking dish in the preheated oven and roast the leeks till they turn golden and caramelized. Once done, remove the dish and pour the remaining sauce, before serving.
Cooking Leeks in the Microwave
Put the cleaned leeks in a microwave-safe dish and add 2 to 3 teaspoons of water. Cook them on high for about 5 to 6 minutes. Make sure to stir the leeks once in every two minutes. The vegetable has to be cooked till the thickest pieces turn tender.
Steaming and Boiling Leeks
You can steam leeks using a steamer basket. Whole leeks take around 15 to 20 minutes to get steamed. Sliced leeks will get cooked within 5 minutes. Place the leeks with their cut sides down, so that the vapor does not condense inside the layers.
In order to make boiled leeks, take some water in a pan. Put some salt and let the water boil, over high heat. Add the sliced leeks into the boiling water and cook over medium heat. The vegetable will get cooked within 4 to 5 minutes. Once done, remove the slices and place them in a colander to drain.
Cooking Leeks for Soups
Let the sliced leeks cook in butter, over low heat, for around 10 minutes. Stir the leeks in between to prevent browning. Once the leeks become tender, add other ingredients and cook well. You may also cook leeks along with other ingredients like potatoes.
In short, leeks can be cooked in different ways, and this versatile vegetable can be used in various recipes. They are rich in nutrients and contain fair amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous. So, try some leek recipes and reap their health benefits.