Spring is here, at last! Flowers, leaves, jackets that don’t feel like sleeping bags – it’s all so sweet to think about. And the produce! The markets will soon be filled with brighter greens, plump asparagus and one of my favorites – shiny, fragrant leeks.
You can spot leeks in your grocery store year-round, but it’s now that you’ll start seeing the narrower, smaller variety that I love so much.
Plus, with a nutritional profile boasting iron, fiber, and vitamin B6, they even tick off the vegetable box when rounding out a meal — though most people may not think of them that way.
If you’re among those who haven’t considered leeks much, here are some basics you’ll want to know, including tips on how to choose, clean, and of course, how to cook with leeks this spring.
How to cook with leeks: First, pick the best ones
Look for strong, sleek and slender leeks in your local farmer’s market or grocery. Seek those with firm white stems and vivid green tops; avoid any that are brown or yellowing.
Only the white and pale green parts are edible, though you can save the tough, dark green tops for enhancing soup stock. In fact, I freeze mine and add the next time I make a batch.
Next, trim and clean leeks properly. They get dirty!
If the leeks look clean:
Simply cut off the ends, slice in half and rinse under running, cold water. Drain, and dry if roasting or sautéing.
If your leeks are really dirty:
•Fill a bowl with cold water. Remove the root end, tough outer layer, and green tops.
•Slice the leek lengthwise and depending on the recipe, slice to size.
•Place the cut leeks in the bowl of water and move around gently. Any dirt stuck in the leeks should drop to the bottom of the bowl. After a good 5 minutes or so, gently lift the leeks out and place in a colander until ready to use. Repeat if the leeks are really gritty.
•You can dry them if roasting or sautéing.
Finally, how to cook with leeks: My favorite easy but impressive recipes, perfect for beginners
While leeks are the milder, sweeter cousin of garlic and onions, you can cook leeks in almost any way you would an onion.
Simply cooking leeks slowly on low heat with a little butter and salt will yield the most delicious, melt-in-your-mouth vegetable – toss with some pasta and toasted nuts (or bacon) and you’re in for a treat.
From March through May, younger varieties will start to pop up in market stalls. You may also see ramps on the grocery shelves, which are a type of wild leek and are only found for a brief period in the spring; both the leaves and bulbs are edible (consider making this delicious wild ramp pesto with them) and worth a try.
But here are some favorite leek recipes for classic leeks:
Braise leeks for a delicious, simple side
I love the simplicity and deliciousness of the White Wine Braised Leeks with Parmesan from Pina at her eponymous site, Pina Bresciani. Her step-by-step tutorial for handling leeks will help even the most intimidated cook achieve success. The beautiful combination of wine, leeks, and parmesan make this a perfect dish – without much effort! – for spring entertaining.
Add them into a fresh spring veggie fried rice
Taking advantage of two of my favorite spring vegetables, the Leek and Pea Fried Rice at This Healthy Table will be my new spring weeknight go-to (I’m especially liking it for Meatless Mondays). My tip: Always keep some extra rice in the freezer, and this is comfort food you can whip up after work or an afternoon on the playground.
Sauté with butter and oil to amp up simple chicken breasts
Every time I see this Creamy Mushroom and Leek Chicken Breasts recipe from Foodie Crush, I immediately want to eat some, even when it’s eight in the morning. A creative twist on regular chicken breasts, cook this beauty up in a mere thirty minutes and serve with farro. It’s actually a good thing my kids don’t eat mushrooms – more for mama. (Or you could skip, of course.)
Okay, I’m kind of obsessed with this whole Easter Sunday Dinner from Katie At The Kitchen Door, not the least of which is the Olive Oil Braised Leeks and Peas with Feta and Roast Potatoes Katie suggests serving as a satisfying side dish, topped with a garlic creme fraiche. Wow. This leek recipe is so simple you could incorporate it into your weekly meal plan, or make it for a fancier Easter brunch or dinner or for a Passover seder. Herbs, feta, lemon, and tender leeks – to me, that’s spring perfection.