Known as the “poor man’s asparagus,” the lowly leek is actually part of the onion and garlic family of vegetables. Similar to scallions, leeks have a mild, sweet taste and are usually served hot as a side dish or as part of soups and stews. Best known as the chief ingredient in vichyssoise, a cold French potato soup, leeks have long been a staple in Mediterranean diets.
Health Benefits. Like onions, leeks are a good source of dietary fiber, folic acid, calcium, potassium and vitamin C. Unlike onions, leeks are easy to digest and are thought to have laxative, antiseptic, diuretic and antiarthritic properties.
Buying and Storing Leeks. Select bunches of leeks with crisp leaves and stalks that are free of blemishes. Many cooks prefer slender, white bulbs, since younger leeks have a more delicate flavor and texture. Store unwashed leeks covered loosely in plastic wrap in the veggie bin of your fridge for as long as 2 weeks.
Preparing Leeks. Cleaning leeks can be a challenge: Dirt becomes embedded in the folds of the leaves during the growing process and will not easily come out without repeated washings. When ready to use, cut the bulbs in half lengthwise and thoroughly rinse off any soil or grit. Trim the roots and leaf ends, discarding any tough or withered leaves.
Using Leeks in Recipes. As a rule, the lower white and pale-green sections are the parts used most often in recipes. The coarser upper leaves can be discarded or chopped to be added to soups and stews. Be careful not to overcook leeks; they are ready when the base of the plants can be cut with a knife.