A popular fall vegetable, the leek is one of my favorite vegetables. A surprisingly versatile vegetable, the leek is ideal for stir fries, soups and salads. Pleasingly easy to grow, a mature leek has a pleasant, subtle flavor which contrasts nicely with its stiff texture.
This guide to how to store leeks will explain to you 7 different leek storage methods. These are suitable for use on both produce freshly harvested from your garden and fresh leeks purchased from your local organic food market.
The leek is a staple of the vegetable garden.
What is a Leek?
A cousin to the onion, the leek is native to central asia. Similar in appearance to a spring onion or scallion, only a lot bigger, this is a leafy vegetable with a long, white stem.
The leek has been cultivated since the time of the Ancient Egyptians and Roman Empire. The Emperor Nero is said to have regularly eaten leeks, believing that they improved the quality of his voice. The vegetable was later introduced to Europe where it was soon adopted by Wales as its national symbol. Today, on the 1st of March, many Welsh people wear a leak or a daffodil to celebrate their patron saint, St David.
The leek is considered a superfood. It is high in fiber, folates, flavonoids and polyphenols, which reduce the risk of damage to blood vessels and heart conditions.
Easier to grow than onions, almost all gardeners will enjoy some success growing leeks. Typically in season between September and April, the leek is a cool weather vegetable. As much of the growth occurs underground the leek happily tolerates frost and snow. In warm areas, typically USDA Zone 7 and warmer, you can overwinter your crops for a late winter or early spring harvest. In cooler climates gardeners must learn how to store leeks.
Regardless of whether you grow your own or purchase freshly harvested leeks from your local organic market, knowing how to store leeks means you can make the most of this fall or winter vegetable.
How to Harvest
The leek is ready for harvest as soon as it reaches the desired size. Hardy types can be dug up as needed over the winter months. In colder areas you may need to lift the crop and store before the ground freezes.
Remember, early season leeks are less hardy than later types. They are usually ready for a fall harvest. Mid and late season varieties are more resilient, providing smooth stems for winter and spring dinner plates.
Work a fork under the plant and, while gently pulling the leaves, lever it out.
Be careful not to damage the edible section, which grows largely underground, while harvesting.
Trim the roots and any damaged leaves. These can be placed on the compost heap.
How to Correctly Clean a Leek
The leek grows largely underground. This means that soil can stick to them. Before storing or even cooking you must ensure that they are properly cleaned.
Cut off the root and dark green leaves. Mix up a solution that is one part vinegar and three parts water.
Immerse the green leaves in the solution. The loose dirt should all fall away. If any dirt stubbornly remains, use a soft veg brush to scrub away more difficult to remove dirt.
Alternatively, cut the leek in half lengthwise. This enables you to easily get at remaining dirt. Separate the layers under cold water and clean. Once clean, drain in a colander. The leek can now be sliced and cooked.
While many people throw the dark green leaves away they can also be cooked into a broth.
How to Select Leeks for Storage
Before you can learn how to store leeks, you must first learn to identify specimens suitable for storage.
Storing a leek that is damaged or starting to rot alongside healthier specimens can cause the entire crop to rot.
Your chosen leek should feel firm and have lots of straight, lush dark green leaves. Avoid attempting to keep any leeks that are yellowing or have wilting tops. The leek should be no more than 2.5 inches in diameter.
Once you know the signs, a bad leek is easy to spot. If the leek feels soft or limp it means that it has lost moisture and is no longer any good. Rotten parts or visible mold are also signs that the leek has gone off. You should also avoid attempting to store any leeks that are yellowing or emitting a bad smell.
A leek can be kept from 5 days to 2 weeks before use, depending on how fresh they are. However, even if they look alright after around 5 days, incorrectly stored leeks should be disposed of.
While the leek tastes best when used fresh, there are a number of options if you want to store them.
How to Store Leeks
How you choose to store leeks means they can last from a few days to up to a year.
1 How to Store Leeks in the Refrigerator
One of the easiest methods in our how to store leeks guide, a leek can keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. However if placed directly in the refrigerator the leek emits an aroma that may permeate through the fridge, being absorbed by other items. To prevent this, place the leek in a plastic bag. This retains moisture and contains the odor.
Do not wash, trim or cut the leek before storing. This encourages rot. Simply pop the leek in a bag and place it in the crisper or hydrator drawer.
You can keep a whole leek fresh for a few days in the refrigerator.
This method keeps the vegetables fresh for a few days. To extend the storage time further, wrap the leek in a damp towel and secure it in place with a rubber band. Place them in a perforated plastic bag to contain any escaping moisture, and put in the crisper drawer. This keeps the leek fresh for 10 to 14 days.
The refrigerator is best kept at a temperature of around 32 ℉ and a humidity of 95 to 100%. If the temperature is too warm the leeks start to yellow and rot. Raising the humidity level of the refrigerator helps to prevent wilting.
You can also store cooked leek slices in the refrigerator. However, they will not last more than a few days. Highly perishable, smaller specimens tend to last longer than larger specimens.
When you are ready to use the stored leek, cut away the root and green leaves. Slice the leek in half and wash thoroughly using the vinegar water solution described above before cooking.
2 How to Store in the Freezer
Freezing is a better option if you want to store a glut of leeks.
Cut off the dark green leaves and the root before cutting the leek in half and washing. Once clean, cut into half-moon shaped slices. Place the slices in Ziploc storage bags and freeze.
Many people like to blanch the leek before freezing. This helps the vegetable to keep its rich green color during freezing. To do this, bring a saucepan of water to the boil and add a pinch of salt. Blanch for 30 to 60 seconds.
To make using the frozen leek slices easier, you can freeze them individually on a baking tray. While this takes longer it prevents the slices from clumping together meaning that you can easily remove a handful of leek slices anytime you need. To do this, place half moon leek slices on a baking tray lined with waxed paper or baking parchment. This prevents the slices from sticking to the tray.
Cutting into slices enables you to store lots of vegetables without using up all the space in your freezer.
Spread the slices out in a single layer. The pieces should not touch. Freeze the slices on the tray. Once frozen, remove the tray and slide the slices into zip lock bags.
Frozen leeks keep for 3 to 12 months. However, they can lose some texture and flavor.
3 Using a Solar Food Dryer
A solar food dryer, such as the BioChef Sol Food Dehydrator, is made up of a number of trays that sit behind a tilted polycarbonate sheet or glass window. Beneath the trays is a metal shelf painted black, this absorbs heat.
Wash the leek and slice thinly. Spread the slices out into a single layer on a tray in the solar food dryer.
A solar food dryer works by using the sun’s energy to dehydrate the leek slices. Cool air enters from a vent at the bottom. The air is warmed by the sun’s rays shining through the glass or polycarbonate sheet. The warm air then escapes from the top vent, taking moisture with it.
In just a few hours the leek slices are completely dehydrated and ready to use throughout the winter.
You can also slice the leeks and place them in a dehydrator. Once fully dry, the slices can be placed in canning jars.
4 How to Store Leeks in Water
This is a good option if you want to use your leek crop within the week but don’t have room to store them in the refrigerator.
Fill a large jar with cold water. Fully iImmerse the leek. This keeps the vegetables fresh for 2 to 3 days.
Ensure that the temperature surrounding the jar isn’t too hot or too humid. Too much heat or humidity can cause the leek to wilt. If your kitchen is too hot, place the jar in a cool, dry airy room.
5 How to Can Excess Produce
Canning produces is a great way to store fresh vegetables and fruit. If stored in this manner, you can keep leeks fresh for up to 3 months.
To can your excess vegetables, you will need a pot large enough to hold the entire leek crop. If you only have a small pot you will need to can in batches.
Fill the pot with water, add a pinch of salt. Bring the water to the boil. As the water warms up, fill a second bowl with cold water. Again this should be large enough to hold the leek crop.
Cut off most of the dark green leaves, leaving a quarter of an inch of greens on each stalk.
Place the leeks in the boiling water and blanch for 30 seconds. Remove and put in ice cold water. This immediately stops them from cooking further.
Drain the leeks and once completely dry place in the canning jars. KAMOTA Mason Jars are ideal.
Canning jars enable you to store a wide range of vegetables for an extended period of time.
Heat a mix of vinegar, salt, sugar, peppercorns, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, red chili flakes, thyme and water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and allow the sugar to dissolve.
Once the sugar has dissolved, remove the water from the heat and pour onto the leeks that are already in the canning jars. Close the lid and allow the mixture to cool completely.
Once cool, store the jars in a refrigerator..
6 How to Store Leeks in a Root Cellar
To store your leek crop in the cellar, keep the crop heavily mulched in the soil until winter comes and the ground starts to harden.
Once the ground starts to freeze, dig up the remaining leek crop. Replant every intact leek upright in a deep bucket filled with fresh potting soil.
Store your leeks in the root cellar. A temperature of 32 ℉ is the optimum temperature. This keeps the vegetables fresh for 3 to 4 months. Some of the best varieties for storing in a root cellar include:
- Giant Musselburgh,
If you don’t have a root cellar, don’t worry. You can use any cool, dark place where there isn’t a risk of freezing to store the crops. A chilly corner of the basement or unheated garage can easily be transformed into a root cellar.
7 How to Cook in Olive Oil
Wash your excess leek crop thoroughly using the method described above. Slice the leek into half moon shapes before cooking in olive oil. Once cooked the slices can be placed in a container and frozen.
Slices can be cooked in olive oil before storage.
You can also turn excess vegetables into a puree. This storage method takes up less room in your freezer than other methods. The frozen puree is also easy to use.
To make a puree, blanch the leaves before blending the leaves, leek and bulb in a food processor. Use a good amount of olive oil to smooth the process.
Once fully pureed, pour the mixture into a silicone ice cube tray or small pots. Freeze in the trays before removing and placing the frozen puree in a zip lock bag.
Freezing a puree into cubes is an easy way to add flavor to soups and stews. Just melt in a few cubes as you cook.
A hardy low maintenance vegetable the humble leek rarely causes the gardener any trouble. Packed with flavor, it is easy to see why the leek is a staple of the vegetable garden. Learning how to store leeks means that you can enjoy their great flavor even when they are not in season.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.