Coming from the same origin of onion, garlic and chives, leeks are an interesting vegetable with a distinctive taste of its own. The stalk or stem of the plant is basically the edible part of leeks. This bulbous vegetable is a favorite to many and often considered as a poor man’s asparagus.
Now that we have your attention, we would like to talk about this vegetable more, its taste, flavor, recipes and much more. The interesting part of this vegetable is that you probably have tried them out in restaurants. The look in the restaurants is of course, well-decorated. But when you actually buy them at home, you are in for a surprise.
Leeks are widely used for salads and soups. Hence, you might want to know what this vegetable actually tastes like and in what dishes you can use leeks. So, here we are! This comprehensive guide will help you everything you need to know before trying out leeks in a recipe.
Introduction to Leeks
The leeks are basically stems that are formed in long cylindrical shapes. Hence, many new cooks are unaware about the uses and taste of this particular vegetable. For being large in size, it becomes difficult to cook for beginners. They look similar to scallions or other green vegetables when you have them cooked. Therefore, it’s pretty normal not being able to recognize them in restaurant dishes.
Seedlings are required for growing leeks and take approximately six months to grow into a plant. The harvest seasons are both summer and winter. But the taste differs according to seasonal variant. For vegetarians specifically, leek offers great nutritional value along with an exclusive taste.
What do leeks taste like?
Cutting to the chase, let’s answer your question right away about what do leeks taste like? Well, the matter is a bit subjective honestly. The taste highly depends on how you cook it. It does have its own flavor but it does not necessarily mean, the flavors are completely intact after cooking. What bloggers and other chefs write about the taste of leek is how they taste in salads. That’s because in salads, you don’t have to cook much and the vegetables used usually complement the taste of each other.
In familiar terms, we would say that leek has a mild flavor and it has a subtle onion-like taste. However, leeks are not as zesty as onions, which is a good sign. Leeks taste great with soups, salads and curries. But mind you, despite possessing a mild onion-like flavor, they can’t be used as a substitute to onions. That’s because of their very different stem like texture.
Difference between leeks and green onions
When chopped together, leeks and green onions look pretty much the same from the exterior. But the texture definitely varies. While leeks are firm and crunchy when raw, green onions are a bit slimy. They get slimier after cooking. The two vegetables cannot be used interchangeably unfortunately. If you use it, the flavors of the dish will differ greatly.
In terms of flavor, the flavor of leeks is milder than that of green onions. In fact, leeks possess a mild sweet and sour flavor altogether that green onions do not possess. You can use leeks for salads, baking, sautéing or even braising. But due to the slimy texture of green onions, they are usually not baked or sautéed. Rather green onions are used after grilling or frying thoroughly to get rid of the slimy texture.
Another factor of distinction among them is the size. Leek stems are larger in size in both length and girth wise. Green onions are much smaller than leeks but possess similar shape. You will only get confused when you see them chopped but the intact stem looks very different from one another.
Choosing the right type of leek
With vegetables, a common problem new cooks face is choosing the right one. One has to know the right attributes that make that certain piece of vegetable the good quality one. After years of research and cooking, we have hacked the trick of identifying the good quality leeks for cooking. Yes, we would definitely be sharing this hack with you.
If you need leeks for salads specifically, we would recommend going for younger leeks only. In fact, for all types of dishes, buying younger leeks are better. They have better flavor and texture of course. So, how to identify the good quality leeks? Check for these attributes when you pick one. The tops should be rolled tightly and the color should be dark green. The bottom needs to be slender and clean. The bottom’s color should be whitish. In terms of size, pick the ones with an approximate two to three inches sized bottoms.
Pro tip, do not choose the bottoms that have turned into round shaped. This indicates that the leeks are more mature. You cannot use these types of leeks for salads. The flavor doesn’t remain as crunchy as before. Make sure that the base is not too thin; the diameter of the base should at least be half an inch. Of course, you can opt for larger diameters ranging from one and half inches to more.
Storage techniques for leek
While storing leeks, we have seen people make some common mistakes. The first one is that they trim the leeks before storing. This is a strict no. The second mistake people make is that they wash the leeks as well before doing anything else. Well, who would’ve thought washing can be a problem as well! So basically, you should not wash or trim the leeks that you want to store.
The leeks should be kept in the vegetable drawer of refrigerator. If you don’t open the drawer before you use it or keep other vegetables there, you can just keep the leeks as it is. But we all know it is next to impossible not to keep other vegetables in the refrigerator. Therefore, it’s better to wrap the leeks lightly with a plastic. This will sustain the flavor and moisture of leeks better.
Our advice would be not to opt for freezing or canning with leeks. The flavors do not remain fresh anymore. Especially with sautéed vegetables, frozen leeks do not taste good at all. However, if you really want to freeze them, use them for cooked dishes only with leek as the side ingredient and not the core one. Do not refreeze or else, the vegetable will completely go bad.
Leek cleaning mechanism
Cleaning leeks can be a bit tricky. We have had our fair share of problems in the beginning while cleaning leeks. The process is actually not that hard if you know the right technique. It’s completely normal to become worried seeing the long stems. But we will break it down to you about the step by step cleaning mechanism for leeks.
First, start by cutting the roots. The white bulbs at the bottom should be targeted. You can throw away the stock or keep them for preparing soups. Do not cut the leeks in the wrong manner; cutting leeks breadthwise creates problems while cooking. Cut them lengthwise keeping the green ends in mind. You can cut them to quarter or more based on your needs. Use cold water to rinse the cut parts. Use your hands to wash out the dirt and unwanted particles from the cut stem. This washed part can now be cut based on your convenience. You can chop them for making salads or simply slice them for cooking purpose. See, if you do it right, the process is not that difficult at all.
Nutritional value of leeks
Since it is a green vegetable, you might have already guessed that leeks come with a lot of health benefits. Having leeks in your regular diet can be a beneficial choice for you. Let’s see if the nutritional aspect of leeks convinces you into adding leeks to your regular diet.
Rich in vitamins and anti-oxidants
For vitamins, leeks contain high amount of Vitamin A and K which is great for your eyes and overall body immune system. Leeks are also rich in folic acid, riboflavin and magnesium. These nutrients are beneficial during pregnancy as well as for prevention of heart diseases. The concentration of anti-oxidants of leeks is much higher compared to other vegetables.
The constituents within leeks are known to be beneficial for heart disease prevention, keeping low cholesterol, keeping optimum blood pressure and prevention from various types of cancer. It also possesses inflammatory properties that are beneficial to the skin and digestive system. In fact, leeks are great food for diabetic patients.
Prevention of cancer and heart diseases
Studies show that leeks are responsible for increasing the production of nitric oxide in the body. This content helps in dilation and relaxation of the blood vessels making you less susceptible to heart diseases. It also has a direct impact in prevention of various cancers including gastric cancer and colorectal cancer.
Leek specific cuisines for you
Of course, now you are tempted to try out some leek recipes, aren’t you? Leeks are used for soups, salads, curry dishes and much more. You can make leek the center of attraction or you can put them as a flavoring ingredient.
In cold winter evening, some hot soup is just what you need to give you warmth. Using leeks in potato soup can really make a big difference. In some regions though, leeks can be a bit expensive. But when you try out leeks in potato soup, you would realize that it’s so worth it! Usually potato, butter and leeks are the key ingredients used for the soup. But for flavoring we have seen many use rosemary and yogurt. This is a good potato leek soup recipe for beginners and you can surely give this one a try.
Ham, peas and leeks
Once in a while some curry is not bad as the main dish for dinner. Go all out with curry and make it just as Indian style. Ham, pees and leeks taste really good together. Make it moist to get the right flavors. Some carrots and celery will work great with the overall flavor. Since you need to use ham in this recipe, you have to soak them the night before for proper mixing. It’s better to use food processor for mixing the leeks or else it becomes a bit tedious. You can use this ham, peas and leeks recipe for reference.
We were just as surprised as you are when we first heard about this recipe. We tried it ourselves and finally confirmed that leeks taste fantastic with risotto. We don’t know why they are still not so popular among the mass. With caramelized risotto, add button mushrooms, cauliflower and leeks and see the magic happening. This leek risotto recipe is an appetizing one but you can get as innovative as you want. Specifically with the choice of vegetables, we won’t stop you from getting overboard with this.
Leeks and cheese
When you want to make leeks the star of your dish, leeks and cheese is the best dish you can serve. We honestly are very grateful that we managed to master this recipe within a while. Leeks turn sweet and sticky after few hours of cooking. You would have to be a little patient while cooking leeks and cheese since it takes more time. But we can assure you that the wait is completely worth it! You can use this leek and cheese recipe. But there are plenty of other ways of cooking it. You can experiment with this recipe and find a suitable one with time.
Some cooking tips for you
If you want to get the nutritional benefits of leeks to the fullest use healthy sauté recipes with leeks. This includes cooking the vegetable mixes with minimal heat and time. They work great for quick servings as well.
For leek salads, lemon juice and thyme garnishing taste a lot more flavorful than normal salads. It is recommended to use chopped leeks in salads instead of diced or other cutting methods. Food processors work great too for mixing leeks with dishes.
For main dishes including fish, steak or red meat, adding braised leeks give off a better flavor. Include celery and some mustard seeds as well for garnishing. Sliced leeks taste great with egg dishes including omelet, scrambled eggs and pouched eggs.