Will & I play Skyrim. Well… Will plays Skyrim, I am more of a spectator as I maybe get an hour of game play in a week. I mostly keep tabs on the game through whatever Will is up to. One random weeknight I was watching him exploring someone’s home, specifically a dinning room where he was picking up all kinds of random food, potions, etc. And at some point he commented that cooked food gave more health than eating the ingredients themselves, specifically talking about the grilled leeks he just picked up. Suddenly the wheels in my head started turning…
What DO grilled leeks taste like? We grill other vegetables, why not leeks? There is an abundance of leeks at the farmers market. And how did they grill them back in the day? I don’t exactly have a campfire to cook one over… hmm.
To the interwebs!
These are leeks. I’m sorry they are so pathetic looking. They were beautiful when I purchased them! Truth is they sat in my fridge for way too long waiting for me to actually grill them. But hey, this is real life here. Wilty leeks happen.
A quick google search reveals that they are historical ingredient that has been cooked with and eaten since the days of ancient Egypt. They are also the national emblem of Wales! Props to Skyrim for having some historically accurate food in the game.
Despite having a mild onion flavor to them, they are not in the onion family but instead a cousin to it. Leeks tend to be treated as an aromatic base ingredient similar to how we use onions. They are primarily used in soups, egg based dishes (quiches, frittatas, etc.), and paired with potatoes. But they are certainly not exclusive to those dishes.
Further googling lead to a small handful of grilled leek recipes with few variations. Aside from needing to pre-cook them a bit, you essentially grill them in a similar manner as to how you would grill most vegetables. It is the perfect palate to build off of.
So here is what I came up with. Two different cooking methods and three variations.
- Grilled leeks
- Grilled leeks wrapped in bacon
- Grilled leek strands tossed in olive oil and the vinegar of your choice
It’s good. Really good… if you like leeks. Now it should be said, that even if you wrap something in bacon, as we are going to do, if you don’t like leeks then there is a high probability that you won’t like grilled leeks. Take Will for example. He gave them a try on multiple occasions but just couldn’t get behind them.
Let’s start with a little prep work on the leeks. Lop off the dark green tops, cut them in half, and give them a good rinse under running water. Because of the way they grow there is often a fair amount of dirt that gets between the layers. So clean them well while still keeping the integrity of their shape. If you are unsure how to do this you can find a ton of how-to videos on YouTube.
There are two ways you can go about grilling leeks. You can leave the root end attached so they retain their shape or you can cut the root end off and get a bunch of loose strands. I am going to show you how to grill both versions. Though in hindsight, I much prefer leaving the root ends on. It makes for much easier grilling and allows for bacon to be involved.
Now that the leeks are prepped and cleaned they need to be softened up a bit. You can do this by either steaming or boiling for 7 minutes. I wanted to give both methods a try so I steamed the whole leeks and boiled the strands.
Which ever method you choose, you will need to dunk the leeks in an ice bath to stop the cooking and retain some color. This is also known as blanching.
Be sure and dry the leeks well, both steamed and boiled. Laying them out on a clean towel and gently pressing with another clean towel on top will get you much closer to dry than using gobs of paper towels.
Prepping for the grill:
For the leeks with the ends cut off, put the strands in a bowl and toss with olive oil and kosher salt. These are now ready for the grill.
For the leeks with the root ends left on, simply brush them with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt.
But if you are feeling a little adventurous and have a thing for bacon, now is the time to pull some bacon out of the fridge. Yes my friends, we are wrapping leeks in bacon. You will need one piece of bacon per leek (give or take based on the length of the leek.) Just wrap it around, insert toothpicks through the sides to hold the bacon ends in place, and snip off the ends of the toothpicks so they don’t flame up on the grill.
Here is where you go and turn on the grill. Let’s start with the leeks with the root ends. See how nicely they set on the grill?
Now I don’t really have specific instructions on how to grill these. You will have to tap into your inner grilling skills for this one. They should take about 10 – 15 minutes to warm up, crisp up, and get some char on them.
- Keep an eye on things and do not leave the grill unattended for too long. Bacon drippings have a tendency to flare up.
- Move them around, to and fro the hot spots on your gril. Turn as needed.
- Depending on the thickness of each leek, some will cook faster than others.
- If a leek is done before some of the others, move it to a cool spot on the gril to keep warm.
- Don’t be afraid of some char, it brings out the flavor!
With the other leeks finished and pulled off the grill, now it is time to put the leek strands on. Gently set the strands across the grill surface. This is where you will notice the difficulty of grilling leeks this way. They fall through the grate! While this would be much easier with a grill pan, it is still possible to grill without one. With a watchful eye you can make it happen.
- Spread them out so that more surface area gets exposed to the flame – I didn’t spread mine out enough at the start
- Move them about gently so you have minimal casualties
- They will start to char at about 8-10 minutes
- Pull off the crisp/charred strands as they are done
- Should take about 10 – 15 minutes to warm up, crisp up, and get some char on them.
- Once all off the grill, toss with the vinaigrette.
And there you have it, right off the grill. I do want to make note that this is most definitely a dish that you want to serve immediately. It doesn’t reheat very well either.
While the leek strands were a bit of a pain to grill the outcome was better than I was hoping for. The crispy charred parts of the strands brought out a sweetness that paired nicely with the mildly tart white balsamic vinegar that I chose. It was very hard to not pick at the bowl as I photographed this.
There is something to say about the clean true flavor of a lightly oiled grilled leek. The flavors of the leek shine. But yes, while that is all good… the bacon totally makes it. Hands down, winner take all.
Grilled Leeks Three Ways
Inspired by: Grilled Leeks
- 4 leeks or more… figure 2 leeks per person
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- bacon (optional)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon your favorite vinegar… red wine vin, apple cider vin, balsamic vin, etc.
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
Start by cutting off the dark green tops. Then cut the leeks in half lengthwise. Run under running water to wash out any dirt or sand while trying keeping the integrity of their shape.
Bring a large pot of of water to boil. Add leeks to the water and boil for 7 minutes. Or optionally you can steam them for 7 minutes. While the leeks boil or steam, prepare an ice bath. As soon as the leeks are tender, dunk them into the ice bath to stop the cooking.
After they have cooled for several minutes, remove the leeks from the cold water to a clean dish towel. Take another clean dish towel and gently press down on the leeks to absorb the excess water. Dry well so the olive oil will stick to them.
Turn on the grill so it can heat up while you finish preparing the leeks.
For grilled leeks: brush the leeks with a light coat olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt.
For the bacon wrapped leeks: wrap each leek in one piece of bacon. Secure the bacon ends by pressing toothpicks through the sides of the leeks, pinning the bacon to them. Snip off the excess part of the toothpicks so they don’t flare up while on the grill.
Grill the leeks on a med-high flame for 10 – 15 minutes, turning often so that they crisp up, get some char on them, and cook the bacon through. See notes above. Serve immediatly.
Grilled leek strands w/vinaigrette
Cut and wash leeks in the same manner as above. Then cut off the root ends.
Boil or steam as above. Dry well.
Toss with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt.
To grill the leek strands, spread the strands across the grill surface and cook for 10 – 15 minutes, to warm up, crisp up, and get some char on them. Or do yourself a big favor and buy a grill pan. See notes above.
Once off the grill, toss with vinaigrette. Serve immediately.