30 November 2015

Leeks vinaigrette

Leeks are one of the stalwarts of the winter vegetable plot. At this time of year most of the available green vegetables, such as cabbages, sprouts and kale, come from the brassica family and have a certain similarity in flavour. Leeks, which are alliums and related to onions and garlic, provide a distinctly different flavour. Leeks are fully hardy, and will stand through the coldest of weather. They are often a bit player, appearing in stews and pies alongside many other veg, but are such a tasty vegetable that sometimes they deserve to be the star of the show. One of my favourite leek dishes - and very easy to prepare - is the French bistro classic: leeks vinaigrette.

Growing leeks

Leeks can either be grown from seed or from seedlings. I usually take the easy option and grow mine from seedlings, which can be picked up fairly cheaply in garden centres. Leek seedlings should be planted in late spring or early summer for an autumn/winter harvest. Leeks sown in mid to late summer will be ready the following spring. To plant leek seedlings, use a wide stick or dibber to create a row of holes approx 1 inch/2.5 cm in diameter and about 5 inches/12 cm apart. The holes should be a bit less deep than the seedlings - usually about 6 inches/15cm. Rows should be planted about 10 inches/22 cm apart. Pop the leek seedlings into the holes. Do not backfill with earth, but simply fill the holes with water.

Leeks require fairly little attention during the summer. It is usually worth piling some extra soil around the stem as they grow, which will extend the white section of the stem. I feed leeks periodically during the summer with seaweed extract. Leeks seedlings planted in late spring or early summer should be ready to harvest from early to mid autumn. They will sit in the soil happily throughout winter until needed.

Although hardy, leeks are susceptible to a few pests. The worst I have encountered is allium leaf miner, which has only been in the UK since the early 2000s. The larvae burrow into the stems of leeks (and bulbs of onion and garlic), leaving tell-tale brown larval cases. When I tried growing leeks in my garden in London, the crop was pretty much ruined by allium leaf miner, which tunneled into the leeks so much that some of them collapsed. So far, I haven't had any problem with them in Brighton.

Shop-bought leeks are usually washed and neatly trimmed. If you grow your own, don't ignore the green top leaves that are trimmed off by shops. These are tasty, and softer than you might imagine, but require careful washing. They make a decent green vegetable, and if nothing else can be saved for the stock pot. When preparing leeks, attentiveness is required when dealing with the section where the leaves branch out from the stem, which can be home to small slugs and snails and dirt.

Leeks vinaigrette

Leeks vinaigrette


1-2 leeks per person, depending on size and appetite
approx 30ml red wine vinegar
approx 150ml good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp smooth Dijon mustard
dash of soya sauce
salt and pepper to taste


Trim the roots and the tops of the leaves from the leeks (keep any that aren't too tatty for stock or another dish), leaving the junction where the top leaves meet the stem. I like to enjoy the difference in flavour and texture between the white stem and the greener top section.

Remove the outer layer or two of the stem. Wash the leeks, taking particular care to remove any dirt from the top section. Making a cut down the centre of the top section can make it easier to remove all the dirt.

Meanwhile bring a large pan of slightly salted water to the boil. Ideally you should be able to fit the washed leek in whole. If your leeks are long, you may have to cut them in half to fit them in.

Once the water is boiling, simmer the leeks for about 10-15 minutes until tender. Refresh the cooked leeks in cold water, then leave in a colander to drain for several minutes.

Meanwhile make the vinaigrette by placing the vinegar, oil and mustard in a jam jar. Add a splash of soya sauce (which adds a certain umami quality to the dressing), and a grind of back pepper. Shake the jar to emulsify the dressing. Taste, and add more vinegar or oil, salt or pepper if required.

Place the leeks on a plate, then cover with the dressing. Leave for a good 20 minutes before serving for the flavours to mingle.

The leeks can be refrigerated for several hours in the dressing if you want to make them in advance of serving, but remember to take them out of the fridge to get close to room temperature before serving.


  1. This is just what I'm looking for, especially after last week and all the squash and pumpkin and brussels sprouts and heavy Thanksgiving side dishes. I'll look for leeks tomorrow at the farmers' market. Thanks Aaron!

    1. Thanks Domenica - good luck in finding some nice freshly dug leeks at your farmers' market. I hope you had a good Thanksgiving last week. All the best, Aaron.