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Taming the wily leek


I didn't get in much of a garden this past summer, and a bit of what I did manage to get planted was either late or a gift from a generous friend with too many starts—or both. One of the late group of vegetables was leeks; a packet of seeds emerged during the move and, since they were dated for 2002, I tossed them into a bare patch of dirt to see what happened. Well, what do you know, leeks happened!

The leeks are just getting large enough to selectively harvest and, lacking scallions for a recipe the other day, I pulled half a dozen from the soil...along with an awful lot of the soil. Which brings us to the point of today's post. Leeks can be intimidating to the uninitiated, what with all those dirt-collecting layers. Cleaning them can be a challenge: if you cut them up much at all, they fall apart and while you can wash them, cutting is a pain; if you don't cut them up, there's no way to get them clean. What's a cook to do?

Photo of several leeks in stages of prep: whole, without roots, split, washed, cut

Well, you can cut them up without cutting them apart. That way you can clean between the leaves, while leaving them together for cutting. It's actually very simple, and once you've seen it you should be able to look your leek in the eye and move on to the next question: what do you want to make with it?

The picture shows a leek as it goes from freshly picked to ready to use. Starting at the back, we have a whole leek, leek with haircut, then trimmed of its greenery, split, washed, julienned, and diced.

Now my technical writer is going to come out for a moment and elaborate in a numbered list. (somewhere an editor is cheering)

  1. Cut off almost all the roots, leaving the merest stubble. (I usually do this outside over a garden bed and leave the roots as nutrients for the soil.)
  2. Remove dark green tops. (These were rinsed and will be used for stock.)
  3. Slice the leek in half lengthwise. The end with the roots will hold them together.
  4. Rinse leek halves under running water, gently separating the leaves to clean between them. Lots of dirt collects between the layers so make sure you wash them thoroughly.
  5. Slicing: If you are cutting into julienne or matchsticks remove the roots first; if slicing in semi-circles, leave roots attached while cutting to help hold the leek together.

That's it. Not really intimidating at all, is it? Now I am off to something that is: homemade caviar.

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