What Are Leeks?

Plus, how to cut leeks and how to cook leeks.

June 05, 2024
full frame background of stacked leek

177109612

full frame background of stacked leek

Photo by: prill/Getty Images

prill/Getty Images

Related To:

By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen

Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.

Chefs delight in gently sautéing leeks in butter and serving them alongside proteins. But the hardy members of the onion family can be prepared at home as well. Read on to learn more.

What Are Leeks?

Leeks are tall, straight members of the Allium family of plants that have fresh and mild onion flavor. When cooked, they become sweet and tender.

You can enjoy leeks for months; prime season runs from early June through November.

What Do Leeks Taste Like?

Leeks taste like a mild sweet onion, but with their own distinctive twist. Let’s put it this way: shallots and onions taste much more alike other than leeks and onions do. It’s that sweet-not-exactly-onion flavor that chefs love and seek out.

What Part of the Leek Do You Eat?

Typically, their white root ends are sliced up and pureed into soup or roasted or sautéed, while their tougher dark green ends can be added whole to soups or stocks for extra aromatic flavor.

Leeks vs Green Onions: What's the Difference?

Leeks look like larger versions of scallions or green onions. They have the same shape and ombre effect of pale green root ends intensifying into dark green tops, but they are not green onions. They are related to one another, but should not be used interchangeably. The entire stalk of the green onion is typically sliced and eaten raw because of its delicate texture and flavor. Leeks, on the other hand, are tougher than green onions and aren't typically eaten raw. Both green onions and leeks soften when they are cook, but leeks take a little longer to get there.

Collection of leeks with roots and leaves attached, arranged on a white marble surface.

561461953

Collection of leeks with roots and leaves attached, arranged on a white marble surface.

Photo by: Allison Achauer/Getty Images

Allison Achauer/Getty Images

Can You Use Leeks Instead Of Onions?

In a pinch, you can definitely use leeks instead of bulb onions or green onions when cooking, but keep in mind that leeks are more expensive than regular white, yellow or red onions.

How to Buy and Store Leeks

When you're shopping in a grocery store or farmers market, choose leeks that are straight and firm with bright green leaves. Store in the fridge, unwashed and wrapped in plastic for up to 2 weeks.

How To Clean Leeks

For leeks cut in half lengthwise, trim the root end of the leeks, leaving enough to hold the leaves together, and halve them lengthwise. Rinse the leek halves very well under running water to flush out any grit trapped between the leaves.

If you're going to slice or dice your leeks, slice or dice them first and then rinse the cut pieces. Fill a salad spinner with water, add the leek pieces and swish them around. Lift the basket out, pour out the water, put the basket back in and spin. If you don’t have a salad spinner, a bowl and slotted spoon or small strainer will do.

For a step-by-step guide on how to cut leeks, head over to our story How to Clean Leeks: A Step-by-Step Guide.

How To Cut Leeks

After you slice off the root end, cut off the dark green tops and reserve them for stock (you can stash them in an airtight bag in the freezer until you make some).

The rest of the leek can be cut a number of ways.

Leek, chopping board

1359021704

Leek, chopping board

Photo by: Kinga Krzeminska/Getty Images

Kinga Krzeminska/Getty Images

Rounds: Cut straight across the body of the leek into even discs. Then you can sauté them just like that.

Dice: Cut the length crosswise into 4-inch pieces. Cut each piece in half lengthwise to create a flat surface. Cut lengthwise strips, then cut across to get your square dice. Compared to the dice you get from an onion, it’s more of a 2-D dice.

Half moons: Cut the length crosswise into 4-inch pieces. Cut each piece in half lengthwise to create a flat surface. Cut crosswise to get half-moons.

Whole leeks: There are some cases where you don’t cut them at all: see the recipe below for Leeks with Dijon Vinaigrette. Simply cut down the length of the whole leek.

How To Cook Leeks

Sauté: You can cook leeks just like an onion. Sauté them in a pot to create an aromatic base for a soup or a stew.

Steam: Steam them all the way and serve them hot or cold as a side.

Grill: Or, steam them briefly to partially cook them and then brush with oil and grill.

Poach: Poach them whole in a large pot of salted water or broth for 7 to 10 minutes at a high simmer, just below boiling.

Roast: Roast whole halved leeks in plenty of olive oil; they'll crisp up around the edges and become silky and soft in the middle.

Can You Freeze Leeks?

Vichyssoise - traditional French soup made of leek, potato and onion

900038546

Vichyssoise - traditional French soup made of leek, potato and onion

Photo by: NoirChocolate/Getty Images

NoirChocolate/Getty Images

You can freeze leeks two different ways: cooked and raw. If you’re saving a stash of leek tops to use for stock in a few weeks, you can freeze them after they have been thoroughly washed. Freeze the white part but slicing it and cooking it first.

Recipes for Leeks

While potato leek soup is rightfully famous, there are all sorts of ways to put this elegant allium to use in your kitchen. Here are a few of our favorite leek recipes. 

Solid 5-star reviews - the people have spoken. Trust them. Make this pasta.

Steaming the leeks makes them tender and juicy. Try chilling them and serving cold with vinaigrette.

131203_FMN_Rigatoni_037.tif

Photo by: Justin Walker

Justin Walker

Risotto with leeks on their own is a delicious dish, so imagine how amazing it is when you add pancetta.

Food stylist: Jamie Kimm
Prop stylist: Marina Malchin

STEAMED_LEEKS_6.tif

Food stylist: Jamie Kimm Prop stylist: Marina Malchin,Food stylist: Jamie KimmProp stylist: Marina Malchin

Photo by: Antonis Achilleos

Antonis Achilleos

In French, this soup is called potage bon femme, which literally translates to Good Wife Soup. Trust us, you don’t need to have or be a wife to make and enjoy this classic.

Food Network Kitchen’s Pancetta and Leek Risotto for Two, as seen on Food Network.

FNK_PancettaAndLeekRisottoForTwo_H

Food Network Kitchen’s Pancetta and Leek Risotto for Two, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Renee Comet

Renee Comet

The Chef-iest recipe in this list, because chefs love using leeks in surprising ways. This recipe makes them the star: they're displayed as whole, long elegant stalks.

Everything’s better with bacon. That is all.

Related Links:

Food stylist: Jamie Kimm 
Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin

POTATO_LEEK_SOUP_010.tif

Food stylist: Jamie Kimm Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin ,Food stylist: Jamie Kimm Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin

Photo by: Antonis Achilleos

Antonis Achilleos

Next Up

What Is Celtuce?

This versatile vegetable is a nutritious powerhouse.

Why You Need to Store Your Onions and Potatoes Separately

The surprising reason these two pantry staples need to be kept apart.

How to Cut a Jalapeño

Plus: learn how to deal with jalapeno hands.

How to Cook Beets

The five best ways to cook this vibrant veggie, plus tips for buying, storing and avoiding stains.

What Are Scallions?

Are they the same thing as green onions?

What Is Sambal?

This versatile Indonesian condiment brings the heat—and so much more.

What Are Sunchokes?

Plus, how to select, store and cook them.

How to Sauté Mushrooms

Make perfect sautéed mushrooms in just 15 minutes, no recipe required!

How Long Does Broccoli Last In the Fridge?

Keep your greens fresh with expert tips.

How to Reheat a Baked Potato

Keep them fluffy and delicious for days.

More from:

Cooking School

What's New