Edible Parts of Leeks

Edible Parts of Leeks. (Image: wmaster890/iStock/GettyImages)

A cousin to the green onion or scallion, leeks impart a subtle flavor and aroma that's surprising for their magnificent size. The bountiful mounds of rings and slices you get from just one leek make the extra prep work well worth the effort. Though many cooks throw away the tougher, dark-green leek leaves, there's only one part of the statuesque leek that's inedible, and that's not it.

Parts of a Leek

As you place the leek on a cutting board, you'll see three different parts:

  1. The root end
  2. The white and light-green shaft
  3. The dark green leaves

Cut off Root and Leaves

Cut off the very tip of the root where it was attached to the soil. Leave as much of the white end as you can because that's one of the most delectable parts. At the other end of the leek, cut off the dark-green leek leaves from the top.

Toss the root into the trash or compost pile. Many recipes advise you to throw away the dark-green leaves because they're tough. However, if you just cook the dark-green leaves longer, they are indeed edible. Save the dark-green leek leaves and pop them into the freezer.

Wash out Sand and Dirt

Leeks have a reputation for being gritty, which causes many cooks to pass them up in the produce aisle in favor of the ready-to-cut scallion. Oh, what they are missing! Leeks make a bold statement both in appearance and texture.

Why are leeks sandy? They grow best in sandy soil, and gardeners are advised to pile the sand up in mounds around the root as it grows. Inside the leek are a number of nested layers where the sand and dirt get trapped.

First, wash the whole leek or remove the outermost layer. Then, choose one of two ways to clean and slice leeks:

Clean First

  • Slice the leek stalk down the middle lengthwise so you now have two long pieces of stalk.

  • Cut horizontally into three or four pieces.

  • Keeping the layers together, hold them at one end under cool, running water and fan the layers with your other hand so the water gets between the layers.

  • Repeat by holding them at the other end.

Chop First

  • Chop the leeks according to your recipe, e.g. rings, matchsticks or diagonal cuts.

  • Fill a shallow dish with cool water and float the cut pieces for a few minutes so the dirt and sand fall to the bottom.

  • If you're using more than one type of cut, such as rings and matchsticks, use separate bowls of water for each shape.

Whichever method you choose, allow the leeks to drain on paper towels to catch any remaining dirt.

Cooking Leeks Different Ways

Popular ways of cooking leeks include:

  • Saute or stir fry with other vegetables for a light onion flavor that won't overpower the others.

  • Add sliced leeks to roasts as you would onions.

  • Saute leeks by themselves as a side dish, drizzling with a light-flavored oil so the leek's natural, mild flavor comes through.

  • Combine your frozen leek leaves with unused pieces of other vegetables and steep them in water to make healthy, delicious stock for soups or substitute in any recipe as a fat-free alternative to chicken or beef stock.

Lively Leek Lore

The lovely leek has quite a lively history, including:

  • Hippocrates, often known as the father of medicine, recommended using leeks as a cure for nosebleeds. Unfortunately, notes from the time don't clarify whether the afflicted were advised to eat the leek or apply it directly (which brings to mind a rather hilarious picture).

  • There are numerous varieties of leeks with intriguing names like King Richard, Lancelot and American Flag.

  • As the national symbol of Wales, leeks are traditionally worn on St. David's Day, March 1. According to lore, St. David advised Welsh soldiers to put leeks on their helmets to distinguish them from the enemy, apparently saving many lives.
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