Best 8 Leek Substitutes
Yes, leeks are part of the onion family and look most similar to spring onions, though leeks are significantly larger, usually being enough for more than one dish. They also taste similar to onion but aren’t quite as pungent and are somewhat sweeter. This is one reason why they neither cause tears when you chop them nor leave that slight aftertaste and smell when you’ve eaten them.
Leeks are therefore an option for adding raw to salads, as well as all the other recipes you can use it for: cream of leek soup, pasta sauces , stews, and everything in-between. Leek is incredibly versatile, adding a unique, sweeter and milder onion taste to a wide range of dishes.
As you can tell from the smell, texture, taste, and layered structure of the vegetable, leeks are related to onions, garlic, chives, and shallots. If you’re looking to eat leek raw, it’s freshest in the spring and fall.
What are the best substitutes for leeks?
When looking for a leek replacement, bare in mind that leeks themselves are rarely the star of the dish. What makes them special is they are the perfect extra, providing contrast to creamy dishes with their firm consistency.
Therefore, when leek is used along with other fresh ingredients or as a base (such as caramelized onion), finding a replacement for it is easy. But if you’re making cream of leek cream or any other dish that needs a larger quantity of leek, finding a substitute may be more difficult.
Belonging to the Allium-family, onions are similar to leek in more ways than one—they make the best substitute for leek regarding texture and taste. There is little difference when cooked, as the stingy onion flavor is toned down by the cooking process.
You will, however, notice a rougher taste, smell and a more crunchy texture in raw onion, which can matter in salads. If you’re planning to replace leek with onions in dishes like soups, quiches, stews or casseroles, you will find that sautéing the onions before adding them to the dish will soften the crunchy texture and release the onions’ best feature—its taste.
Yellow (or white) onions are closer to leek when it comes to flavor and probably easier to find.
Related to onions and leeks as well, shallots are clearly on the same side of taste, crunchiness, and texture, although they may be somewhat sweeter and sharper than onion, with a smoother, less aggressive taste than that of a plain white onion.
Shallots therefore make an excellent substitute for leeks, especially in cooked dishes, where you can enjoy the sweet taste of shallots sautéed until golden-brown. Caramelized shallots add subtle spiciness with a touch of sweet that will improve your casserole, risotto, pasta, stew or whatever you’re making.
Lots of people say that onions, leeks, and shallots are similar to garlic, and the truth is it’s hard to define much distinction between them. They are different as much as they are alike, and that’s probably what we’ll have to be satisfied with. And nobody minds, as long as we get to eat them both, right?!
3. Sweet Onions
If you can find sweet onions at the market or store, you’ll get a great alternative. They add just a hint of sweetness and pungency to stews, soups, casserole dishes, omelets, and the like. Keep in mind that overcooking sweet onions may cancel out the sweetness. Instead, try adding them toward the end of the cooking process.
To manage proportions, you can use two large onions in place of one leek, and if you’re cooking on a budget, sweet onions are your go-to option too. Onions are just around the corner and they’re very cheap, whereas leek can be expensive if you buy them out of season or if you live somewhere that doesn’t brag a fine leek production. So don’t be surprised about discrepancies in pricing.
4. Spring Onions
With the same appearance as leeks but being much smaller, spring onions are very flavorful and fresh, with a chewy texture. They’re not quite as sweet as leeks, but when you’re looking for replacements, they’re probably the best option yet.
As opposed to leeks, you can use the green of spring onions as they are not so tough and provide color and flavor to your dish. Use them in the same way you would use onions or leeks, and if you’re looking to create a plate that not only tastes but looks amazing too, you’re in for a treat! Level up the aroma of omelets and scrambled eggs, pasta or risotto and get spectacular results by adding spring onion leaves to paté, vegetable purees, fried dishes or roasts. Thank us later!
Another one from the Allium family, scallions make a great substitute for leeks. The term “scallion” is often used to refer to different types of onions. The difference is that the bulb is in the process of developing at the white base of the plant. In scallions, the bulb is not yet visible, therefore the stem is typically straight.
6. Celery Leaves
Celery works well as an alternative to leeks, although it’s way more fibrous and crunchy, and it tastes almost entirely different. Celery provides a rooty taste to cooked dishes, but if you add it in salads, you will get a crispy texture and a slightly stingy but fresh taste, leaving no traces of smell or any unpleasant after-taste, as do onions and garlic.
When using celery leaves, you may find the flavor to be a little bit stronger than you want, but the nutritional value of this vegetable is enough to encourage you to enjoy the difference.
High in antioxidants, a high percentage of the vitamins remain in the vegetable even when it’s steamed for up to 10 minutes. Celery includes phytonutrients, vitamins,, and minerals that are very important for a healthy diet. So even if it’s not the best leek replacement in terms of taste, it is well worth turning to.
We cannot begin to talk about garlic without taking a moment to remember its numerous health benefits that have been known about since ancient times. So, when you’re looking for an alternative for leeks, garlic is worth considering.
Even though it is part of the same family as all the other vegetables in this article (except celery), garlic has a different kind of pungency and it’s even stronger in taste and smell, in a fabulous way! In fact, there are probably very few dishes that garlic doesn’t make better. You can add it to potatoes, pasta, curries, vegetables, marinades, sauces for roast, different kinds of salads and basically anything else you can think of.
Keep in mind that garlic is stronger than leek, so only a few cloves should suffice. And since you’re going to chop it as fine as you can, it won’t add any texture to your meal, so consider this in dishes where creaminess and body are important.
8. Wild Ramps
We’ve saved the best for last: wild ramps, also known as wild garlic or wild leeks. They are one of the most precious vegetables you can find on an early spring-summer hike over the mountains.
They taste like garlic, minus the smell, and the leaves add amazing color to your food, not to mention the flavor. It is believed to be the Appalachians’ remedy after a long and hungry winter. The only problem with this unbelievable plant is that its season is short, just a few weeks between late April and early June. So, if you’re planning a hike, keep your eyes open.
How to chop/cut leeks according to your recipe
There is more than one way to chop a leek, and how you do it depends on how you intend to cook it. The commonest method used for sautéing them is to first cut them in half, separating the white and green parts. Then, chop off the darker, older leaves and the roots. You can add these to stock rather than throw them away, as they offer a delicious flavor. So store them in an airtight bag and put them in the freezer for when you have a stock to make.
You can also cut the leek in half length-ways and then chop it into thin slices in the shape of half-moons. Or try the julienne-method. It’s best to use the recommended method in the recipe you’re following. Quite often, your leek will be pretty earthy and gritty on the inside, so once you are done chopping, rinse them thoroughly in water because there is nothing worse than eating grit. Once they’re clean, get off the excess water with a paper towel before you start cooking.
How to use leeks in dishes
Now that we’ve talked about how to chop leeks, let’s go through some of the ways you can cook it. Sautéed, grilled, and roasted are probably the most common ways.
For grilling, slicing longways, and rinsing and drying them, makes them the right shape to grill on both sides, under a medium-high temperature, until they’re soft and turn dark brown. To roast them, slice them longways, chop them into 1-inch pieces and rinse thoroughly. Toss them in a pan or tray with olive oil, salt and spices to your liking, and bake until tender (approximately 20 minutes, at a temperature of 425°F or 220°C).
For sautéing leeks, use the same cutting method and throw them in a frying pan with heated olive oil over medium heat. Keep stirring until they soften—it won’t take too long.
A few ideas for dishes with leeks
We promise we’ll get to the meat of this article—leek alternatives and substitutes—but for that, we need to take a look at a few dishes with leeks, added to influence the flavor or as a side-dish on their own.
Leeks give food a fabulous taste. Soups, creamed soups, stocks, stews and sauces all benefit from a little leek! Leeks add depth and body to saucy dishes, making them creamier in texture and milder in taste. One of the most popular and best recipes is cream of leek and potato cream soup, but they also go well in mushroom or cream of mushroom soup.
You can easily replace onion with leek in pasta recipes, lasagna or risotto, giving a little twist to the flavor. Now, imagine what you can do with leek in quiches and soufflés, omeletes or scrambled eggs, and even frittatas.
Last, but certainly not least, leek pairs well with meat, so, other than stews, you can use it in stuffings for turkey, chicken, pork, and much, much more. Get creative—you won’t regret it. Leeks are so versatile, so get experimenting and you will discover a vegetable with infinite taste potential.
Check out some of our amazing leeks recipes below:
Wrapping it Up
So let’s summarize a few of the most important facts to keep in mind when deciding between leeks and any of the options above. No, onions and leek are not the same, although you can easily replace one with the other.
Onions taste stronger, whereas leeks are sweeter and milder, which means they go together nicely as well. When using them in a dish, be sure to adjust accordingly in order to get the best results whether using onions or leeks. Yes, you can eat leeks raw, just like you can spring onions, wild ramps, shallots or any other vegetable on our list. But remember to mind the minor differences between them when adding them to your salads.
Leeks can be expensive if bought out of season or if you live somewhere they don’t naturally grow. If you want to make sure you get them cheap, buy them in the spring and fall and store them in a plastic bag in the freezer so that you’re good to use them all year round. And in case you ever run out… you know what you’ve got to do!