Leeks are a fantastic vegetable to use, but a bit of a pain in the ass. They’re a cousin to garlic, onions, shallots, and scallions (aka green onions), and I think taste like a sweeter shallot. To me the most common dish made with leeks is potato leek soup, a personal favorite, but really you can use them in most recipes where you might use an onion but are looking for a slightly milder / sweeter, and less overpowering flavor. They’re easy to find year round, but are considered in season from fall through early spring.
When you’re buying leeks in the grocery store you’ll see something that looks like a giant scallion, with a small white bulb that turns into a white stalk that turns into green, tightly wrapped, flat leaves. They’ll be around 12” in length and 1” to 2” in diameter. It’s the white and light green part of the stalk that’s used in cooking, with the bulb and upper green leaves being removed and discarded.
The most important thing to remember about leeks though is that they’re dirty. I know that they look clean when you buy them, but they grow in extremely sandy soil and that sand gets caught up in all the little layers inside the leek while it grows. This is why it’s an absolute must to wash leeks well before cooking. No one wants a mouthful of sand with their meal. It’s only an extra two minutes of work, and well worth it for the sweet and mellow flavor they add.
This is how the leeks will look when you buy them:
Cut off the bulb at the bottom, those upper dark green leaves, and remove the outer layer that looks stained and wilted. This is what you’re left with.
Slice the stalk in half length wise (it’s in all those thin layers you can now see that the sand gets trapped).
Then slice thinly.
Put all the slices into a bowl full of cold water. Use your hands to separate all of the pieces and ensure they’re all well rinsed.
Use your hands to scoop out the slices and put them into a colander to drain. Don’t just pour it into a colander because than the dirt which had settled to the bottom of the bowl will just be poured back onto the leeks.
If you’re cooking with them right away, lightly pat dry with some paper towel, otherwise just let them air dry for a few minutes.