Spotlight Ingredient: Leeks

By far the most underestimated of all winter vegetables is the leek. They usually get lost in the respectable, yet predictable Vichyssoise, but this cousin of the onion is capable of so much more.

From Humble Beginnings to Show Stoppers

Once dubbed “Poor-man’s Asparagus”, the leek needs only some slow braising or gentle grilling to bring out its sweet yet complex flavor. The leek should not be considered merely an add-in, because it can stand up very well on its own in a variety of side dishes.
I once served a simple roasted baby leek gratin as a side dish at Thanksgiving and it nearly stole the show!

The subtle onion flavor of the leek lends itself well to pairing with fish and seafood, and if you aren’t convinced, try my Leek-Stuffed Salmon Fillet (recipe at the bottom of the post). Serve it warm or cold with a sprinkling of chopped fresh dill and you’ve got a dish worthy of a holiday buffet.


Now that prices for imported vegetables are sky high, not to mention out of season, why not branch out and try a few recipes with leeks during these cold winter months?
It’s time the leek went from ignored to explored.

Getting Started

Buying

Look for leeks with bright green leaves, and a firm, unblemished, long white stalk. Small and large leeks are both sublime, the only difference is the cooking time.

Storing

Like most vegetables, it is best to buy leeks only as needed; however, if you need to store them for a few days, keep them in the crisper drawer of the fridge.

Cleaning

Leeks can be quite sandy, so careful washing is important. Here’s how to properly clean a whole leek.

  • Start by removing the outer layer of white (unless it is very fresh or from your own garden).
  • Trim the base with a sharp paring knife to remove all the roots.
  • Make an incision in the middle of the white stalk and cut toward the green tips, severing the leek in two, but with the bottom still intact.
  • Wash well under cold running water, pulling the leaves apart to rinse well between them.
  • Drain, green tips down, in a colander for a few minutes.

If the recipe calls for chopped leeks, it is best to chop them and then wash under cold running water. Allow to drain well before using.

Recipes

Roasting or braising brings out the best flavors in leeks and simple grilling is a great option as well. Here are a few of my favorite recipes featuring the leek.

Baked Leeks with Cheese & Yogurt Topping

Choose tender young leeks for this recipe
Serves four

  • 8 small leeks
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 150g fresh goat’s cheese
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F and butter a shallow baking dish.

Trim the leeks, cut a slit from top to bottom and rinse well under cold water.

Place the leeks in a saucepan of water, bring to a boil and simmer gently until just tender. Remove and drain well using a slotted spoon. Arrange in the prepared dish.

Beat egg with the goat cheese, yogurt and ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and season well with salt and pepper.

Pour the cheese and yogurt mixture over the leeks. Mix breadcrumbs and remaining Parmesan cheese together and sprinkle over the sauce. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until the top is crisp and golden brown.

Baked Salmon Stuffed with Leeks

We usually enjoy this with a side of couscous and steamed sugar snap peas.
Serves 4

    • 1 whole salmon fillet, about 1 1/2 pounds
    • 2 medium leeks
    • 1 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 tablespoons butter
    • Salt & pepper
    • 1 lemon, zested & juiced
    • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
    • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 clove garlic

Garnish

  • Bunch of fresh dill
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • Pine nuts, toasted (optional)

Roughly chop leeks in ¼ inch rounds. Wash according to cleaning instructions above and drain well.

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, melt butter and oil together. Add leeks and sauté gently until very soft, about 20 minutes. Stir often, being careful not to let them brown. Season with salt. When they are cooked, remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm.

In the meantime, prepare the salmon. Place whole fillet, skin-side down on a large cutting board. With a sharp knife, cut a generous slit on the side of the fillet, deep into the center, but not all the way through—much like you would a sub sandwich.

Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place salmon on the parchment and fold back the top layer of fish.

Preheat over to 350°F.

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, lemon zest, soy sauce, and olive oil. With a microplane, grate the clove of garlic into the bowl and mix well. Spoon marinade all over the fillet of salmon, reserving a bit for the top.

Spread leek mixture evenly over the bottom layer of salmon and fold the top layer back down. Spread the remaining marinade on the top of the salmon.

Bake for about 15-18 minutes until salmon is firm, but still moist.
Using two sturdy spatulas, transfer stuffed salmon to a serving platter and garnish with chopped dill, toasted pine nuts and lemon slices if desired.

More Leek Recipes

Do you usually bypass the noble leek at the market, or do you toss a few bundles in your basket? Any favorite recipes?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites.

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Comments

  1. How timely! Aimee, I just pull the leeks out of our garden last week. And now I have leeks coming out of my ears. The salmon sounds yummy!!!
    .-= Eren’s last blog: Here, There and Everywhere =-.

  2. I’ve had my eye on that chicken pot pie w/ leek recipe ever since I saw it in the Haiti cookbook! Sounds delicious….
    .-= Simple Homeschool ~ Jamie’s last blog: Navigating Homeschooling Detours: What to Do When the Road Gets Rough =-.

  3. I never really gravitate towards leeks, but now I have a couplet to make them less formidable in the kitchen:

    Small and large leeks are both sublime,
    The only difference is the cooking time.

    Couldn’t resist. Thanks!

  4. mmm…I love leeks:) Thanks so much for sharing how you might clean them more easily…can’t wait to try it out!

    The salmon makes my mouth water. And the rhyme makes me smile:)

  5. We love leeks in our home. I’m making a sandwich with them today which I’m really excited for. I LOVE the idea of the stuffed salmon – so great!
    .-= Jan (Family Bites)’s last blog: Winter Weekend =-.

  6. Dad is in the House says:

    Since my ancestors were from Belgium, the land of leeks (among other things) I use them quite a lot. It’s true they get a lot of dirt in them, and I think that’s one reason they’re not used more. To clean them, I chop them in 3 or 4 lengths, cut those in half, lengthwise, and soak them in a big bowl of water for awhile while I do something else. Then, rinse in colander and voilà.

    I usually keep some homemade leek puree in the freezer (I’m telling you the ancient Belgian in me takes over sometimes). It is great for cooking for people who don’t like onions. Milder and no onion texture.

  7. Leeks are one of our favourites, especially on the barbecue. I’ve been searching for a good salmon recipe since this morning, this one looks delicious. Now I’m wishing I would have broken down and paid the $3.79/leek (yes 1 leek) when I got groceries yesterday.
    .-= Lisa’s last blog: How to Make Homemade Air Fresheners =-.

  8. I have a garden full of leeks I planted last summer, just getting big. They are easy to grow and don’t take up much space that you might use for other things because you plant them in the late summer, then I pull them and eat them as they get in the way of other stuff I want to grow. If you get starts, they come a million to a pack.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/enckline/3785787141/in/set-72157613219922771/

    We like to saute them, then pour in a little cream and some sugar snap peas, cooking for just a minute.
    .-= Christie’s last blog: ten :: 02 08 =-.

  9. I have only cooked with leeks once and it was in a stir-fry that was overwhelmed by soy sauce, so I never got to enjoy the flavour of the leek itself. I am excited to try the Salmon recipe. Thanks for the reminder and all the great tips!

  10. I have just recently fallen in love with leeks. The salmon recipe looks heavenly. My toddler was sitting on my lap and said, “Yummy!” when she say the pictures, so we will definitely try it. And that you for all the other leek recipes. I can’t wait to try them all!
    .-= Claire’s last blog: Date Night 3: Game Night =-.

  11. Great post, Aimee! I love the flavor of leeks and wish I had more recipes for them. Going to have to try a few in this post. Where can I get the recipe Leek Gratin you said you made for Thanksgiving?
    .-= Katie @ goodLife {eats}’s last blog: Coconut Chicken Curry Soup =-.

  12. I LOOOOVE leeks. We tend to be pretty unoriginal with them, and have a “creamy leeks” side dish that is our go-to. Thanks for these other recipes, I hope to try the leek stuffed salmon sometime soon.
    .-= my boyfriend cooks for me’s last blog: craving satisfier =-.

  13. I never had a leek until about a year ago, but they really are great to add a unique flavor to common dishes. Here’s the soup I created: Chicken Barley Leek Soup. I wish my husband liked salmon; that dish looks amazing!
    :) Katie

  14. I love your description of leeks and how to clean them. I also love the sound of the Salmon Stuffed with Leeks. I will definitely have to try that. Salmon is one of my favorite fish to make. Thanks for sharing this recipe.
    .-= Vicki Bensinger’s last blog: Arugula Salad with Grilled Chicken & Strawberries =-.

  15. Cynthia Coffey says:

    I made the leek stuffed salmon for my Dad’s Bday dinner tonight. It was fantastic and really easy. We served it w/ roasted asparagus, au gratin potatoes and diced pineapple. I am obsessed with leeks and was so glad to find a new way to use them. Thanks!

  16. I always believed in eating healthy to keep looking young and beautiful not only using the natural food on my face and hair but what goes in my body too . a year ago i heard that leeks is good to clean the blood ,ever since i never run out of it but always eat it because i had too ,reading the recipes today sure made it a plus to eat it more often
    thank you so much for sharing

  17. Maureen Westendorf says:

    Hi Aimee,

    Could you share your Roasted Baby Leek Au Gratin recipe please?

    Thanks!
    Mo

  18. Erica LeBrun says:

    Hi Aimee,
    I’m in search of recipes using leeks and came across your site. Good ideas here…. the salmon looks wonderful. I just wanted to share one recipe with you that got me going with loving leeks. It’s PIZZA!!! :D A combination of leeks that have been sauteed, sun-dried tomatoes, shrimp and goat cheese… on a Boboli or pizza dough… either way, it’s delicious. A sprinkle of oregano… or maybe dill. Bake and enjoy!!

  19. Thank you for these tips! I used the stuffed salmon recipe with tilapia instead (folded over instead of sliced in half). It was so great and tasty :)

  20. Looks Yummy!!
    Grabandgorecipes’s last post: Parmesan Panko Pork Chops Recipe

  21. Linda Nicholas says:

    How much of the leek do you use? I heard to only use the white part but you seem to be using much more if the green part. My daughter and granddaughter are allergic to onions but can do leeks. So we have been substituting leeks in all our recipes when they call for onions. I think I am wasting too much.

  22. When I’m cleaning leeks, I usually make the incision much higher, just a few cm beneath were the outer leave stopt to make a full cilinder (I’m not english speaking, so I don’t know how to describe this better).

    The part below the incision, I cut the leeks in about 7 cm chunks, drizzle them with olive oil and a little lemon juice, add some salt and pepper and cook them in the oven until they are tender inside. If I have them, I add a few tomatoes in the baking tin. Sometimes you have to cover the leeks with a sheet of aluminium foil because the outer leaves can become either burnt or just dehydrated. But that’s just the outer leave, peel it off and the rest will be delicious.

    The upper part of the leeks, I chop them in thin slices. So I use about everything of the leeks. The darker parts have a very strong taste – nothing like the delicate white stem. I like to stir fry them with my unions until they are tender when making nasi goreng.

  23. http//www Were would I sell leeks ? Or Who Buys? THANK YOU.

  24. Wonderful!!

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