A winter vegetable from the onion family, leeks are often used for thick soups, stews and other hearty recipes that are meant to warm the body and the spirit. Their flavor is subtle and less bitter and moist than other members belonging to the onion group. When cooked they become smooth and limp, adding a velvety texture, which usually contrasts with other ingredients like potatoes, carrots, and meats in hearty stews and soups.
Prepping Leeks for Cooking
Lay the leek on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut the root at the bottom of the white part. The roots will be right at the butt end of the leek. Move on to the leaves, and cut the leaf part off a little bit past the white stalk. Don’t leave too much of the green on there. You can use the green parts of the leek to make vegetable stock, but the white part is what is used for cooking.
Cut the leek in half to prepare it for washing. You can cut it all the way through, or cut through most of it, leaving one side uncut for ease of chopping later on. There are two methods to washing leeks, which can be used together to make sure all the grit between the leaves is gone. This tricky vegetable has a lot of folds and creases so dirt can crawl into crevices with no fear of being found.
Take one half of the cut leek (or the whole leek which is still connected at one side) and peel the first layer, almost until it's completely separated but still intact with the other layers. Rinse it under cold water, doing a visual check for dirt still left on the leaves. Wash every single layer this way.
Alternatively, clean your leeks by cutting in half down the entire leak, not leaving any layers connected. Slice the two halves horizontally, to make small half-circles of the stalk in whatever width your recipe calls for. Pour cold water in a large bowl. Submerge the sliced leek rounds and separate them with your fingers to ensure that water gets into every layer. Let the leeks sit in the bowl for up to 10 minutes to allow the dirt to sink to the bottom of the bowl.
If you used the cleaning method in step 3, lay the leek, which is still whole lengthwise, on a cutting board. Cut carefully across it to produce rounds, as wide or slim as you want them to be.
Use both cleaning methods to ensure that all the sneaky grit gets washed out, first separating the long layers with your fingers under cold water, and then getting back to the cutting board to prepare the rounds for the cold-water soak.
Be sure to clean your leeks thoroughly, no matter which cleaning method you use.