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When do you use leeks?

I know I have used them for other things, mostly when trying a new recipe, but the one thing I have found they really make the difference in is in potato soup. Was asked by a guy at the produce counter yesterday about them and it got me to thinking. How would you describe the difference between leeks and onions? The only description that comes to mind is that the flavor of leeks seems more refined and subtle. When do you feel they are worth the extra expense?

He also asked would you use them with or instead of onions. I said instead, but again, am now wondering if there are times to use them with onions.

Also, do you ever use them raw?

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  1. I use them as a sub for onions, to jazz things up so to speak. But never raw, at least that I can recall, except as a funny garnish. Can't say why though, now that you ask. Guess because it's one of the few produce items I buy specifically for a certain dish.

    1. Number of differences between leeks and onions. I suppose the biggest is that they are generally milder. Whilst I use onions regularly as a flavouring base, it's much rarer that leeks get used in the same way (although I'd add both to, say, a stew). On the other hand, I rarely cook onions as a vegetable accompaniment to a meal but leeks regularly appear in that role - baked/roasted, boiled or, perhaps most often, thinly sliced and steamed, along with grated root vegetables. Fried to crisp, they can be an interesting garnish.

      Classic accompaniment to chicken, of course, where it goes great together in a pie at this time of year. For tiny "new season" leeks, they go really well with peas.

      Never use them raw but, otherwise, they're so versatile, they're rarely not in our kitchen.

      1. I love leeks and use them often. To me they are a sweeter/milder cousin to your standard onion.

        I love them sautéed with spinach as a bed for simply grilled fish and chicken.

        I use them in a number of veggie soups like carrot/ginger and creamy cauliflower.

        I use them quiche like dishes too.

        Bottom line I almost always have them on hand!

        1. I use leeks whenever I have them.*

          (*they grow in the garden at the house)

          1. we use them quite often, tho not as often as regular onions, and even less often then shallots. but i have often used them in combo with onions, in stews. i also love braising them as a side dish. and we have used them raw in salads, finely minced.

            1. Leeks are wonderful anywhere you don't need the sharpness of onion or to caramelize or long-cook them. And I sure use them raw: in salads, slaws, for example.

              1. I use them braised, raw in salads and browned in avocado oil as a topping on steak. Braised whole in a pot with lamb is my fav but I prefer leek over scallion and onion many times calling for either of those in a dish. I slice them long, clean them really well and enjoy them with a light dressing along with roasted beets. I also make a savory cheesecake where steamed leeks are draped around the finished cheesecake and it always goes over well with company.

                1. I love leeks and though I sometimes sub for onions, I'm more likely to use them as more of an individual vegetable to highlight their sweet flavor (especially since they're pricier than onions). Examples:
                  --Caramelized leeks as pizza topping (even better with smoked cheese).
                  --Braised: cut in three-inch chunks, saute in butter, then add water/chicken stock and finish covered. Can add vinaigrette.
                  --A yummy side dish for fish: equal amounts of diced leeks, carrots, and red bell pepper, cooked slowly in butter/olive oil; add fresh thyme if you have it.
                  --Ditto what foodieX2 says: good with eggs, quiche.
                  --Rounds in stir fry with broccoli, cabbage, etc.
                  --Jean-Georges' fried rice, which uses lots of leeks and is amazing.

                  1. Number one application (if not the only one) is chicken noodle soup. But I don't generally add onion.

                    1. Most recipes involving leeks call for only the white part, which leaves most of the plant in the garbage. But if you trim the ends of the tough green leaves, julienne into something resembling linguine, blanch in salt water, and saute in olive oil, you get a delightful dark green side dish that is a great underlayment to seared scallops, shrimp, grilled chicken breast, etc.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: rjbh20

                        I usually ignore the "white part only" and use a fair amount of the plant until it becomes obviously tough - say about 20cm from the base - although you need to slice the green part more finely than the white.

                        1. re: Harters

                          I also use a lot of the green. My leek and potato soup always has a green cast to it.

                          The toughest ends go in the stock bag in the freezer.

                        2. re: rjbh20

                          Yes, I LOVE leek greens - I just slice them a little more thinly and cook them a bit longer than the white parts. I can't make mapo tofu without them!

                          1. re: biondanonima

                            Yes , I discovered recently that the leek greens are not tough like people say, and are delicious! They also keep in the fridge for weeks. Since leeks can be pricey I love being able to use the whole thing.

                            1. re: Westminstress

                              And if it turns out that you don't love leek greens using these excellent suggestions, they're still very handy for making vegetable stock (along with fennel tops, chard stems, etc.).

                        3. Very finely sliced (I use a food processor) and cooked really slowly to a sweet mush, they can be the basis of all sorts of recipes, including Ottolenghi's leek fritters, the most frequently cooked meal in this house. Also in cawl, a lovely Welsh Iamb dish, which, thank you for jogging my memory, I think I will make tomorrow,

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Londonlinda

                            Linda - let us know, on the What's For Dinner thread, how the cawl turns out. It's something I've never made - and should do, as Granny Harters was Welsh.

                          2. Thanks for all the replies. I really got my money's worth with this bunch. The white parts are close to 12" long. I guess the grower mounded the dirt up around them farther up than is customary? I've never grown them, so only assuming there. I'll have to try some of the ways mentioned here. Leek fritters sound particularly good!

                            1. I make a warm lentil salad with leeks, lardons, and a poached egg on top. It's one of my very favorite weeknight meals!

                              1 Reply
                                1. I sauté them with onions to make a leek & bacon tart.

                                  But usually it's either/or.... I like them in a farro risotto, and as a base for roasted pork loin, they caramelize and soak up the pork juices and it's heavenly....

                                  I'll use them in stock, if I need to get rid of them.

                                  1. When I get them in my CSA box.

                                    1. Here's how I will use up the rest of my leeks. It is delicious. Since there are only 2 of us, I halve the number of eggs, sour cream and cheese but use the full amount of leeks and mushrooms.

                                      http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/mush...

                                      1. I love the flavor of leeks and recently discovered Trader Joe's carries them frozen for around $1.69 (I think?) per bag. They are chopped, mostly white parts.

                                        So convenient to have them on hand at all times in the freezer, and it eliminates the work of cleaning fresh leeks, or having to plan ahead to buy them for a recipe. I'll often substitute them for onions in various dishes.

                                        Here's a photo I found http://thebroccolihut.com/wp-content/...

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Dave B

                                          That would be convenient and cheaper. Sadly no TJ's here.

                                          1. re: Dave B

                                            Wow, I have not seen that at my local TJs..... Will have to look closer at the freezer section next time.....

                                          2. I don't. I've bought and used them several times, in different applications, and to me, they always taste mildly soapy. I love the other alliums, but gave up on leeks. At least I have the consolation that it's cheaper to sub onions or scallions than to use leeks.

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: greygarious

                                              I noticed bundles of very pristine-looking leeks at the produce market and decided to give them another chance. There were two, a good 1.5" diameter each, to the bundle. There was no dirt in them at all, and these have good flavor. I steamed some halfway in the microwave before using them when making bluefish, saving the dark green parts to toy with. Today I put a few green leaves into the pot of rice I was making with the pasta method, but didn't think they made their presence known (I took them out before straining the cooked rice.)

                                              Decided to julienne some of the greens crosswise and braised them in bacon fat and water. Very tasty. I am using the remaining green part now, braising along with baby spinach and some dried mushrooms to absorb the liquid they exude. I'll cream the result and add the remainder of the TJ's Bergenost cheese.

                                              Now that I know the whole leek is suitable as a vegetable ingredient rather than just relegated to the stockpot, I'll use them more often.

                                              1. re: greygarious

                                                greygarious, I just discovered using the green part as well. My sis has a Vacation Rental and the guests often leave goodies like beer, leftover wine, packaged items and ice cream. We're not shy about consuming them. Recently, guests left a HUGE bowl of finely minced leeks - about equal parts white and green. We used them raw on baked potatoes and on scrambled eggs, cooked into frittatas and seared scallops, and in any case where I might have used scallions until the leeks were gone. So good. I've always reserved the greens for stock. I was surprised at how long they lasted all minced up like that.

                                                There's a recipe in a Madeline Kamman cookbook that includes "as many leeks as you can afford." An abundance is a gift.

                                                1. re: greygarious

                                                  grey - that's some great leeks inspiration. How on earth did you get fresh leeks without grit though...... I ALWAYS have grit in the bottoms every time I've worked with fresh leeks.

                                                  If only I could just chop/dice/slice the fresh leek parts with the abandon I do with an onion, I'd use fresh leeks much more often as I love the flavor. The tedious cleaning process lowers my fresh leek love, alas.

                                                  1. re: Dave B

                                                    I chop them before washing, dump them into a salad spinner full of cold water and agitate a few times. The grit falls to the bottom and then you can lift out the colander insert, full of clean leeks!

                                                    1. re: biondanonima

                                                      Same here. If you chop them while still dirty they actually get cleaned faster.

                                                    2. re: Dave B

                                                      They were from Calareso's in Reading, Mass. Perhaps they are not grown in soil - I don't know, and this is the firt time I got them there. I sliced them lengthwise, expecting to find dirt/grit but they were as clean as an operating room. I kept looking as I chopped them, found nothing.

                                                      1. re: Dave B

                                                        I don't often get dirty ones.

                                                        But if you do, trim just the roots, but leave the fibres that connect all of the layers together.

                                                        Pull the outer leaves off and rinse the outside.

                                                        Now cut them in half lengthwise -- you'll find you can gently lift the layers apart under running water and flush all the grit.

                                                        Now prepare as needed.

                                                  2. I love using them in soup and lightly sauced pasta dishes (especially those with seafood). I've used them alone and with regular onions depending on the dish (i.e. in soup I'd use both, in pasta I'd opt for just leeks)

                                                    1. Really tasty side for steak, roast, etc. Not light. In baking pan put leeks, halved length-wise, in single layer, cut side up. Mix heavy cream, maybe half-pint or so, with two-three tablespoons whole-grain mustard, with the mustard seeds, very important. A little salt. Pour over leeks. Top with a good layer of lightly buttered breadcrumbs. Bake until done.

                                                      This is a very flexible recipe, and cooking times and temps are sort of what you want them to be. Cheese in the breadcrumbs? Sure, but gets very heavy. Panko? Yup.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. I do think they do something different to potatoes than onions do. I use them in potato and leek hash.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: teezeetoo

                                                          Potato & leek hash browns are great -- thought I was the only one who had discovered this.

                                                        2. Soups and stews. I find them so much milder than onions.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: LeftoverFoodie

                                                            Sauté leeks in butter after cleaning well,until soft.Season with salt ,fresh cracked pepper,dash of sugar and Cajun seasoning.Add half and half,a bit of butter and simmer until thickened.Use under seared fish or scallops.Drizzle balsamic vinegar and honey that's been lightly boiled around it.Delish!

                                                          2. Keep in mind that leeks and onions are also used in recipes that exploit their unique textures. Sometimes the crunchiness of leek is desired, and an onion wouldn't substitute. So it's not just flavor that dictates the choice of onion or leek.

                                                            1. last night I sautéed leeks with some mushrooms and spinach as a topping for pizza, Delicious!

                                                              1. Never used them raw. Personal preference to ALWAYS use them mixed with 1/4-1/2 cup fine dice onions or shallots. The two onion flavours meld quite nicely--alone leeks are a bit too subtle for me. I make sure to sweat the mix for a while so that it will mellow and sweeten.

                                                                I also put them in cream casseroles, savoury crepes, and lasagne. (You can do a "leek layer" instead of spinach if you want).

                                                                As for expense, I buy them when they are a good size and price, this varies wildly from store to store both on and off season.

                                                                1. I actually did a taste test of about 10 different types of "onion"-type ingredients a couple of days ago and leeks were one of them. The main difference between a leek and say a yellow onion was that as you said the leek had a milder "onion" flavor, but it also had a sort of bell-pepper sweetness/parsley-stem herbaciousness to it that the onion doesn't.

                                                                  1. I love leeks and use them whenever I can get them.

                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                      They have them chopped and frozen now at Trader Joes, I bought a couple of bags to have on hand for spontaneous usage.

                                                                      1. re: coll

                                                                        I use them too, but find they lack the flavor of fresh. Some frozen stuff (berries, peaches) can be better than fresh or (baby peas) impossible to get fresh. Others lose flavor.

                                                                        1. re: AdinaA

                                                                          Uh oh. I haven't used them yet but will let you know when I do.

                                                                        2. re: coll

                                                                          So do I. I use them in a bacon leek tart and find no deterioration of flavor. Of course sautéing them in bacon fat helps..... I don't eat them just plain.

                                                                          1. re: coll

                                                                            The fresh leeks at Trader Joe's (two per package) are great - they're my go-to.

                                                                        3. Whenever I have the patience to clean them. All that sand/mud/grit.

                                                                          I could dgo for hydroponic leeks. Because: Leek tarte.

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: AdinaA

                                                                            If you have a trader joes nearby you, pick up their cleaned and sliced leeks in the frozen case. Problem solved.

                                                                            1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                                              Already mentioned directly above. She doesn't like them. I have some but haven't used yet.

                                                                          2. I cook them whole in a little water until soft-drain and then add fresh lemon juice and evoo-s/p to taste

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: jpr54_1

                                                                              I also use them when I make chicken soup-they are added in addition to onion and other vegetables.

                                                                            2. I use them for two things: Elie Krieger's chicken pot pie (it's all green and white veggies, with leeks replacing onion): http://www.elliekrieger.com/chicken-p... and this pasta recipe from Gordon Ramsay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gq8a....

                                                                              Green tops go in the scrap bag in the freezer for stock. I have also chopped the green parts finely and used as a substitute for green onion in stir fries; I wouldn't buy them for this purpose, but it works in a pinch.