It’s not unusual to tackle the cleaning and preparing of leeks just like we do most of our other veggies: Chop off the extraneous greenery and rinse thoroughly. But wait! Some of those greens, including a large portion of leeks, are actually edible, and highly nutritious to boot!
While the white part of leeks is, of course, the prized section, for its lightly sweet but softly pungent, oniony flavor, the light green part is not to be overlooked and discarded. And, with a little bit of thought and planning, you can get the most out of this wonderful vegetable. Let’s talk leeks!
Are Leek Greens Healthy?
Leeks are a part of the same vegetable family (allium) to which onions, garlic, shallots, and chives, belong, all of which contain beneficial nutrients and plant compounds.
So, by rather intimate association, leek greens are also healthy, lending any dish a host of nutrients like vitamin C, A, B6, and K1, as well as folate, magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese. These potent elements, heightened even more-so in wild varieties of leeks, serve to support healthy eyes, and to aid in immune health, cardiovascular resilience, thyroid support, the reduction of premenstrual symptoms, and in tissue repair.
As part of the allium family, leeks are abundant in a sulfur compound known as allicin that can fight against microbes, high-cholesterol, and even cancer. Therefore, use the whole leek to gain the greatest benefits.
How To Clean Leeks
While leeks are prone to harboring dust and dirt on their exterior, and also in between their many layers, you’ll be pleased to know they are easy to clean. Quite simply, you can run the entire leek stalk under cool running water and wash away any debris from the surface. If the outer layer is at all damaged or degraded, just peel away this layer and discard.
Though the goal is to use the entire leek, some light trimming is required.
First, cut off the bottom of the leek where the root sprouts are. One centimeter up from the bottom should be a sufficient amount to remove the roots, along with the tough base. Now you’ve exposed the beautiful concentric rings of the white part of the leek. A cook can get lost in those rings!
On the opposite end, where the very dark green part is, cut off the top 3 to 5 centimeters, as that part of the greenery tends to be rather tough and woody.
What you have now is a wonderfully clean and trimmed leek that shows off the white bulb as well as the lighter green length of the stalk. However, sometimes more dirt can be stuck deeply in the tightly wrapped layers of the leek.
To further clean your leeks, the best way is to cut them in half, length-wise, and separate the layers. Again, run those layers under cool running water.
Place your cleaned layers on a paper towel, or tea towel, and pat dry. You are now ready to use your leeks.
What Can You Do With Leftover Leek Tops & How Do You Cook Them?
Most of us, in our cooking lives, have eagerly used the white part of our leeks, only to dismissively toss the green parts away. Don’t. ‘Tis the season to turn a new leaf and put those valuable greens to good use! Here are a few delicious ways you can make use of your leek greens:
- Chop the green parts into two-inch chunks and simmer in a pot of water on the stove for several hours. Make sure to add other vegetables (like celery tops, carrots, parsley, and carrots), salt, and herbs, to make a delicious and nutritious homemade soup stock.
- Slice the greens, horizontally, into small strips and sauté in olive oil with some garlic and sea salt. Use as a colorful and flavorful topping to roasted or mashed potatoes, or to a cream or legume soup such as clam chowder or split pea.
- Add finely chopped fresh leek greens to your favorite quiche recipe to boost its melody of flavors.
Can Leeks Be Eaten Raw?
Even though leeks belong to the same family as garlic and other onions, and add that classic pungency and kick of flavor to most any dish, they are definitely a bit sweeter, and more subtle in flavor. If you think about it, people put sliced, raw, white onions on their sandwiches and burgers all the time, so wouldn’t it make sense that leeks can be eaten raw as well? Yes, they can!
Now, barring the inconvenience of small pieces of leeks falling out of your burger as you try to eat it, raw leek circles or pieces can be used in lots of uncooked foods.
Toss them into your green salad, coleslaw, or potato salad. Or, try mixing some chopped raw leeks (all parts white and green) into a pico de gallo salsa.
Essentially, anything you would put any form of onion into, you could instead use leeks as a perfect addition or substitute.
How to Store Your Leek Greens
In general, leeks are somewhat hardy and can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week to ten days or in the freezer for at least six months. Whichever storage option you choose it’s best to clean and trim your leeks first.
Short Term Storage In the Refrigerator
Air and light can promote limp leeks, so to help assure the shelf-life of these veggies, wrap your leek or several leeks in a paper-towel-lined sheet of foil.
Be sure to leave at least one end open to allow any ethylene gas to escape. And each time you use some of your leeks, just rewrap what you don’t use and place back in the fridge.
Long Term Storage In the Freezer
Another storage option is to cut up and freeze your leek greens for later use. Freezing will help retain the green color and the nutrients of the leeks, but keep them from going bad if you can’t quite use them up in a week.
The best way to freeze greens, and herbs, of this nature, is to place them single-layer on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, uncovered, and allow to freeze overnight.
The next day, quickly gather up your individually frozen leek cuts, and place them in a container, freezer bag, or preferably in a mason jar, so they don’t absorb or give off odors over time.
Promptly put containers in your freezer.
Your frozen leek stash will be so handy to have when you want to make something that calls for chives, or green onions, and you happen to have neither. Just pull out your frozen leek greens to use as a terrific substitute, and save yourself a car trip!
If you have taken the steps discussed above to freeze your cut-up leeks, their quality will stay in tact for at least 6 months. And, when you need to use some of your frozen leeks, just pull out the amount you need and promptly return the rest of them to the freezer.
Leeks are by far one of the most versatile vegetables you can use. Not only are they healthy, but their delicate-but-onion-like flavor can serve to amplify just about any savory dish you create. And, make sure to get the most out of your leeks by using the white part of the stalks as well as the green parts. Not only will your dishes taste wonderful, but they’ll also look fresher and more beautiful with dashes of lovely green bits. Enjoy!