Vibrant yet mellow leeks reach their peak in January. But how do you make the most of the onion's most leggy relative?
While a ubiquitous vichyssoise soup might be the first destination that springs to mind for a glut of leeks, and rightly so, this gentle and accommodating vegetable has so much more to offer.
Grown since ancient Egyptian times, leeks not only boast some impressive nutrition credentials - like being a good source of potassium, folic acid, vitamin C, iron and fibre - but they are also extremely versatile, whether as the support act in a comforting side dish, or taking centre stage in a creamy gratin.
Fried until crisp as a garnish, puréed, roasted, charred, slow-cooked with butter, braised or blitzed into soup or baked into quiches and gratins, these vegetables come into their own when delivering comforting savoury sweetness.
Leeks are also perfect company for ham, cheese, potato and pasta.
How to Choose Your Leeks
Pick healthy looking leeks that are smooth, firm and straight, with dark green leaves and white necks. They should be about an inch (roughly 2.5cm) in diameter.
There are several varieties of leek to choose from including Carlton (early), Musselburgh (late) and King Richard (for early, baby leeks).
How to Store Leeks
Store fresh leeks whole and unwashed, wrapped loosely in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or the freezer for up to three months.
Once cooked, leeks will only stay fresh for about two days.
How to Prepare Leeks
Before you get cooking your leeks, learn how to prepare them to retain their tender stems, without the unwanted grit and tough bits.
Watch how it's done in this quick video below:
How to cook with leeks
There are many ways to cook with leeks to harness their mellow sweetness. Here are a few of the options, from charring to braising, which maximise the humble leek's potential.
Charred Baby Leeks
For a novel take on the leek try this healthy vegan recipe for sweet-charred baby leeks served with vibrant romesco sauce, made with red pepper and toasted almonds, shown in the video below.
How to Cook Leeks - French style
Put a French spin on your leeks in these two recipe ideas, including leek in French dressing for a Parisian inspired starter, or try a recipe from Normandy using cream and cider. And remember ... to maximise tenderness, let cooked leeks rest.
For a comforting creamy side dish, perfect with grilled chicken or steak, try this very simple leek cream recipe explained in the video below.
Sweet Leek Carbonara
Try Jamie Oliver's family favourite for a really simple leek carbonara where the leeks wrap around the spaghetti in this luxurious comfort food dish.
Alton Brown's Leek Potato Soup
And last but not least, Alton Brown puts his spin on the famous vichysoisse soup, where the potato is the second player to the starring leek, and a steaming hot bowl of goodness comes served with crunchy leek rings.
For more recipe ideas check out our seven delicious ways of cooking with leeks.