January 8

The Taste of a Leek Explained and The Funny History of Wearing Leeks

Written by: Savannah

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Leeks are a funny-looking member of the allium (onion) family, and they have a rich history dating back to ancient times.

Leeks are prized for their mild flavor and are often used both as a garnish and as a base for cooking many dishes.

If you’re not sure if you’re going to like leeks, keep on reading! 

What Can I Expect When Trying a Leek?

three-whole-leeks

Leeks taste very similar to a milder green onion. They come from the onion family, but they aren’t as spicy as their pungent relatives.

Their flavor can be described as sweet, earthy, and mildly spicy.


Can You Eat Raw Leeks?

You sure can, but only the white and light green parts.

Throughout history leeks have been prized as a condiment, as well as for their delicious flavor when cooked.


What Parts of the Leek are Edible?

close-up-of-a-leek

In a rather surprising twist, the entirety of the dark green stalks, which make up the majority of a leek, are generally discarded by most American cooks.

The white and pale green parts of a leek are the bulb of the allium, and the “choicest” part of a leek. While delicious when raw, if you thinly slice and saute them you will add an amazing flavor to your dish.

The green parts can be used in a variety of ways, but require a good deal more preparation, as they are very tough.

Leek greens make an excellent addition to a stock. They can also be braised or steamed until they’re tender and wilted.

If you blanch your leek greens, they can be used as a pesto or a substitute for cabbage. Though keep in mind, if you don't cook them until wilted, they may be a bit more difficult to digest.


The Unique History of Wearing a Leek on One’s Person

One of the proudest moments in the history of the leek might be the Welsh tradition of wearing a leek as an adornment on one’s person on St David’s Day.

Though the leek was eventually replaced by the daffodil, this fascinating tradition is rumored to have begun in the 6th or 7th century during a war against the Saxons.

Allegedly, the King ordered the Welsh to affix leeks to their armor or helmets, so they could easily be identified by their comrades during the fighting. Apparently, the tradition stuck.


Leeks vs Onions - Taste, Texture, Flavor

chopped-leeks-and-pepper-with-half-a-lemon

A leek will always be sweeter and milder in flavor than an onion.

Most onions are very punchy and spicy when raw. However, if you find a very mild, sweet onion, you would find some similarities in flavor to a leek.


The Best Way to Cook Leeks

sliced-leek-and-knife

First, you need to thoroughly clean your leeks. Cut off the root end and split them leekwise, excuse me, LENGTHWISE, down the middle to access their many layers.

The edges will look almost like a book. Rinse between all the layers with cold water to remove any gritty sand or dirt.


Saute

In the US, the most common method for cooking a leek is to thinly slice the white and green parts, and sauté them until they are tender.

Leeks are then used as a base for dishes as you would use a sautéed onion. They are often used for soups and stews as well.


Fried

Leeks may be sliced in longer, thin strips and then plunged into a deep-fryer for about a minute.

They are then drained and seasoned with salt. The leek will be crispy, flavorful, and used as a crunchy topping for many dishes; it's especially popular as a garnish for fish.


Pickled

Leeks may be cleaned, and sliced into ¼ inch rings.

They can then be pickled using the common canning method, lacto-fermentation, or they may be made as a refrigerator pickle, where a brine that is largely made up of vinegar, spices, salt, and a little sugar are used.

Pickled leeks may be used as a garnish, or chopped up and used to impart a punch of flavor in cooked dishes or salads.


How Long Do Leeks Stay Good For?

whole-beets-and-leeks

Raw leeks will stay good in the fridge for about two weeks. Do not wash the leeks or they will rot more quickly.

Cooked leeks, on their own, should ideally be used within a few days. Cooked leeks in a dish such as a meat sauce, will keep for the duration of the entire product. Usually, 5-7 days.

Pickled leeks will vary in storage time based on which pickling method you’re using. Follow the guidelines in your recipe.

Generally, leeks do not freeze very well. The exception to this is if you plan to make stock out of them. Shoot for no more than two months in an airtight container in the freezer for best results.


What's the Best Way to Store Leeks?

Like most of us, leeks do better when they have a bit of breathing room. However, leeks can give an “oniony” flavor to other food in your fridge if not stored in an airtight container.

Wrap the leeks loosely in a breathable cloth and place in a large ziploc bag. Seal the bag and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Check the leeks at one week as storage time may vary depending on your environment and how fresh the leeks were when you bought them.


Conclusion

close-up-of-a-leek

Leeks have a mildly spicy, sweet, and earthy taste to them. They are a delicious ingredient and the pale green and white parts can be cooked with or eaten raw.

Leeks need to be cleaned well before using to rid them of any dirt or grit. Leeks are commonly sautéed and used in place of onions. They may also be fried, stewed, boiled, or pickled.

Raw leeks, when stored fresh, will stay good for up to two weeks in the fridge. 

Happy eating!

Savannah


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About the author

Savannah grew up in Kansas City, where she learned to cook brisket and ribs from her Mom and Grandmother. She's spent the last 10 years in the restaurant industry where she worked her way up from prep cook to Chef instructor. In 2017, Savannah and her partner sold everything that wouldn't fit in their suburban and traveled the US where she got a job cooking in each city they stayed in. Savannah has trained under more than 50 chefs and done everything from running a food truck to making chocolate. She currently runs her own cottage bakery and teaches cooking classes in Northern Colorado.

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