Leeks have a funny name and when they’re full grown, they look like a chubby version of their petite cousin, the green onion. But leeks are nicer than all of their onion cousins. They’re mild and sweet and won’t make you cry.
Their delicate, feathery texture makes them great in a raw salad where their Vitamin C, Folate and Iron will be best absorbed. They also caramelize beautifully when cooked on low heat, releasing their inner sugar. They do burn quickly. So keep a watchful eye on the pan. Don’t worry, though, if you let them burn. Crispy fried leeks make a natural garnish for rice or salad, especially in Asian dishes in place of the usual fried shallots. The French made them famous in the classic cold potato soup, Vichyssoise, and are used as well the White Bean Cassoulet. The Welsh adore them too. They are a national symbol of Wales.
But their cultural significance isn’t the point. Leeks are really fun to play with in the kitchen. You will come to depend on them for an alternative to onion in coleslaw, where their texture mimics the wispy shreds of cabbage and carrot. Their sweetness plays off the bitterness of steamed greens. See Leeks and Kale for a great side dish. Really, like any batch of syrupy caramelized onions, a jar of caramelized leeks in the fridge will find a medium in everything from scrambled eggs to pizza toppings to a good excuse to make a sandwich. Suggestion: caramelize them in huge quantities.
Leeks require a little care when cleaning. Soil can get caught between their wide layers. Cut the white and light green ends of the leeks and cut them down the middle lengthwise. The darker green end is tough, better suited for vegetable stock.
Under running water, open up each layer and rinse out any grit you might find there, moving through all of the layers while leaving the leek intact. Place them cut side down on towels to dry out a bit.
Cut one leek in half lengthwise and begin slicing each half on the short side into a feathery pile.
To a sauté pan on low heat, add 1 T. olive oil. Toss the leeks in the oil and let them begin to soften for about 3 minutes on low. Stir frequently and watch them. If they start to brown, turn down the heat. Soft and syrupy is your goal.