The Vegetable Butcher’s Favorite Way to Eat Leeks All by Themselves

published Jun 10, 2015
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

A leek is the kind of vegetable that makes you want to give nature a big high five. Their ombré skins gradate from dark green to chartreuse to white. They captivate in this way from the tops to the root, and from the inside out. Their thick outer layer unfurls like a scroll of paper, which indicates they need softening, but doesn’t offer a clue as to how meltingly tender and toothsome they can be. Baby leeks are cute and quite sweet. The adults are beautiful, bold in their flavor and regal in size.

They all hold powerful potential to season our food and, even better, to stand on their own.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

I am all for using leeks as an aromatic (one of the best), and you can certainly use leeks to replace onions in almost any recipe, but let’s highlight leeks in their full form. You can poach whole leeks in a flavorful stock, roast them in olive oil, or bake them in cream. I suggest grilling leeks and serving them with herbaceous vinaigrette.

This recipe I’m sharing here is one of the absolute best ways to show off what this special vegetable can really do.

Cara Mangini’s Simple Grilled Leeks with Herb Vinaigrette

Place clean whole leeks (whites and light green parts only) in a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the leeks are quite tender. Let them drain and pat them dry. (Alternatively, you can steam leeks until soft.) Cut large leeks in half lengthwise. Toss the leeks generously in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Grill over medium-high heat, about 2 minutes on each side, until lightly browned and grill marks appear. Toss the leeks with a splash of your favorite wine vinegar and a handful of chopped, fresh herbs or serve with my herb vinaigrette.

For the vinaigrette, whisk together 2 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 2 1/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar, 1 1/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Whisk in 1 tablespoon chopped dill, 1 tablespoon chopped chives, 1 tablespoon chopped chervil, and 1 tablespoon chopped basil. Slowly stream in 1/4 cup hazelnut oil and 1/4 cup grapeseed or canola oil while you whisk quickly and constantly until the dressing comes together. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste. Serve over grilled leeks.

How to Choose and Store Your Leeks

  • Look for leeks that have the most amount of white.
  • Refrigerate leeks. They will last a long time. Just peel away any dry or wrinkled outer layers as they age.
  • Clean leeks thoroughly. Cut off their dark green tops and reserve them for making stock. Remove the outer layer of mature leeks if it is tough and fibrous. (You can leave them on baby leeks.) Trim the root end while keeping the root end intact. Cut large leeks in half lengthwise. Hold them under cold, running water while spreading the layers apart to be sure water runs through each layer to remove dirt and sand (especially around the root end). Fill a bowl with cool water and gently shake the leeks under water to release any remaining dirt and sand.
  • You can also slice or dice leeks before you wash them. Cut the leeks to size, then rinse them in a bowl of cold water. Swish them under water to release dirt and sand. Lift the sliced leeks to drain them, and repeat until completely clean.
  • Cook leeks until they are completely tender — that’s when they offer their best flavor and texture.
(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)