We traditionally trim the green tops off leeks and throw them away, but the thick leaves are perfectly edible and have just as much if not more flavour than the milder, pale end.
Often referred to as a super food, leeks are high in flavonoids, vitamins A, E and K, and fibre. They’re also rich in minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper and iron. To top it off, they’re fat free so are perfect for adding flavour to a calorie-controlled diet.
Of course, green tops of leeks can be fed to your rabbit or composted, but they are far too delicious not to use in your everyday cooking. Here are a few ways you can use up your ends of leeks.
Any leftover vegetable trimmings can be used to make a useful and delicious stock, but adding the green tops of leeks adds a beautiful green layer of flavour. The leaves should be added to the stockpot and removed once they are well wilted and have imparted their flavour and green colour. The addition of chickpeas to a vegetarian stock works very well with the greenness of the leeks and adds an umami dimension to stock without the need for meat cuts or fat.
Learn how to make a rich umami-filled vegetable demi-glace: a smooth, sticky sauce full of rich flavour that can be used for just about anything. Spread all your vegetable trimmings on a baking tray, season with salt and olive oil and roast at 170 degrees. When the vegetables are golden brown add water to the tray and stir, popping them back in the oven for another five minutes. Then transfer everything to a stock pot and add water – one part vegetable trimmings to two parts of water. Slowly reduce the liquid. Once reduced by half, strain and begin the process of demi-glace. Reduce slowly to 50%. It’s ready when the sauce sticks to the spoon with the texture of molasses. Separate and store in the fridge until you need it.
A leek soup recipe typically calls for keeping the white ends and discarding the green tops, but add the tops to the mix and you’ll have an extra green layer of flavour. Cut the greens along the grain thinly, shred them if possible and add them to your soup before the other ingredients. They will take a little longer to cook than the rest. This soup works best when it is blitzed for a homogenised, creamy texture. The colour is bright green and when finished with crème fraîche and croutons it looks incredible.
Crispy fried leek tops
These make a wonderful crunchy addition when sprinkled over meat or vegetable dishes. They can be added to salads, or anything else that needs a bit of texture. Cut the leek tops into small pieces and heat about 3cm of vegetable oil in a pot or pan, drop in one piece of the leek and when it ‘fizzes’ and floats to the top, add the rest. Don’t overload the oil with leek and fry them little by little. When they are golden brown, scoop out with a slotted spoon and leave to drain on a piece of kitchen paper.
Dehydrated leek tops
Simply cut up your leek greens and wash them well. If you have a dehydrator, put them in for about 24 hours until they are dry and crisp. Alternatively, you can put them on a paper-lined packing tray and roast on your oven’s lowest setting for about eight hours until they are dehydrated. You can eat these just like chips, or alternatively, put in a food processor for a green powder that can be added to anything to boost flavour.
Leek leaf pesto
Finely dice your leek leaves and add to a pan with a little olive oil. Cook until soft then remove and allow to cool. Add the leek leaves to a food processor along with two handfuls of basil (stems included), pine nuts (or hazelnuts), olive oil and pecorino cheese. Garlic is optional, and salt is added to taste. It is wonderful presto, served with homemade pasta like tagliatelle.
Bubble & squeak
Try replacing cabbage in your bubble & squeak with wilted leek greens. Leek and bacon are natural bedfellows, so this is a simple, hearty and satisfying dish that’s great for a winter evening. Fry bacon or pancetta in a pan, then add your leek greens and allow them to soak up all the lovely fat and flavour. Add a cup of water or stock, cover and cook until the greens are soft. Add leftover boiled potatoes and season with salt and plenty of white pepper. Stir in some butter for extra flavour.
Pickled leek greens
A great way to use up your leek greens you can add them to a salad for a fresh, zingy punch of flavour. Blanch your leek greens for about two minutes in boiling water, then remove and rinse in cold water. Then in a pot, add three cups of white wine vinegar, 1 and ½ cups of water and 2 teaspoons of pickling salt, and bring to the boil. Place your leek greens in a large jar along with a teaspoon of green peppercorns, a sprig of tarragon and a sliced clove of garlic. Pour the pickling solution into the jar until the ingredients are covered. Put the lid on and place in the fridge for 24 hours, and they’re ready to use. Add Korean chilli and grated ginger for a leek kimchi or ‘leekchi’.
Leek green risotto
You can use your leek greens to make risotto, first create a leek green stock by boiling the leek greens and reducing the liquid by half. Add any other meat or vegetable stock if needed, depending on how much risotto you are cooking. Remove the leeks and set aside. Melt some butter in a large pan, add your desired amount of carnaroli rice and stir. When the rice is glossy and well covered in the butter, add a glass of white wine and cook-it off. Then start adding your stock, ladle by ladle. When the risotto is soft, remove from the heat. Stir in a large knob of butter and a couple of handfuls of Parmeggiano Reggiano, then add the leeks. Season with salt and pepper and allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving.
Combatting food waste is becoming an increasingly important consideration in our kitchens. Why throw something away when, with a little bit of creativity and know-how, you can turn it into something delicious and healthy? Leftover green beans can be turned into a casserole, sprinkled over salads or even coated in batter and deep fried. It’s not just leftover vegetables that can be versatile; here are a few ideas for adding flavour to leftover chicken by creating mouth-watering dishes that will also help you save money.