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Caramelized Braised Leeks

Braised leeks are halved and seared until golden brown before getting braised in a cooking liquid to yield the most tender leeks. This easy side dish is dairy free and gluten free.

What Are Braised Leeks?

Leeks are part of the allium family along with onions, garlic, shallots, chives, and green onions, which would explain why they look like giant scallions. They have a mild onion flavor that becomes slightly sweet when cooked. The whole leek is edible for minimal waste. 

Although this recipe doesn’t utilize the dark green tops (also known as leek greens), save them for later. Saute them and add on top of eggs, creamy leek cauliflower potato soup, or leek green farro risotto.

Braising is a moist-heat cooking method that involves cooking at a low temperature in a small amount of liquid until the food is soft and tender. Searing the leeks in the pan before adding the liquid gives them a nice caramelization and adds more depth of flavor.

The cooking liquid has a concentrated flavor from the braising process, which is then made into a sauce to serve with the vegetable.

Ingredients

  • Leeks – these become melt-in-your-mouth tender after they slowly simmer in the cooking liquid. 
  • Extra virgin olive oil – the cooking oil used to sear the leeks.
  • Lemon juice – adds a nice brightness to the dish.
  • Chicken broth or vegetable broth – the braised cooking liquid that develops into a concentrated flavor.
  • Fresh thyme sprigs – infuse into the leeks and give them a great flavor.
  • Sugar – a tiny amount helps the leeks to caramelize.
  • Salt – helps bring out the natural flavors in the leeks.

How To Make Braised Leeks

Step 1. Use a sharp knife to trim off the leek greens right where the light green ends and the dark green parts begin. Set aside the dark greens for later use. Slice each leek in half lengthwise. Trim off the hairy end of the leek (if it has it – some don’t) but keep the root end intact.

Step 2. When cleaning leeks, it’s important to get between the layers because that’s where the dirt gathers. So thoroughly wash each half under cold running water to remove the dirt and grit. Shake off any excess water, pat dry with a clean dish towel or paper towel, and set aside.

Step 3. Heat a large skillet (that has a lid you’ll use later) over medium heat. Once warm, add a drizzle of olive oil along with the sugar and salt. Give it a quick stir and add the leeks in a single layer with the cut side down. Cook them for 5 minutes on the first side, flip, and cook for 2-3 more minutes.

Step 4. Add the broth, lemon juice, and fresh thyme sprigs. Cover with a lid and reduce to medium-low heat. Cook covered for 25 minutes undisturbed.

Step 5. After the 25 minutes are up, remove the lid and the sprigs of thyme, increase to medium-high heat, and boil until the liquid has reduced by half.

Step 6. To serve, drizzle the reduced liquid in the pan over the top of the leeks and top with flaky sea salt and any additional ingredients such as lemon zest or fresh herbs.

Make It Your Way: Substitutions & Variations

Please remember that recipes are just a starting point.

How can you make these caramelized braised leeks using what you already have? Here are some ideas

  • No olive oil? – You can also use dairy-free butter or unsalted butter if not dairy-free.
  • No lemons? – Instead of lemon juice, use dry white wine such as sauvignon blanc, about 2 tablespoons.
  • No fresh thyme? – You can substitute another fresh herb like rosemary, dill, or oregano.

How To Store

Let cool to room temperature before storing them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Helpful Tips

Because this side dish is made with such simple ingredients, use the highest quality ingredients you can for the best flavor.

Don’t throw out the leek greens, they’re delicious in dairy free risottodairy free frittata, and make a delicious topping for tomato avocado toast or creamy leek cauliflower potato soup. 

How To Serve

A few of my favorite ways to serve leeks are with proteins such as lemon butter fish or fish en papillotebaked Italian bison meatballsgluten free chicken parmesan, or honey garlic lemon pepper chicken thighs.

They’re also delicious on crusty bread with melted butter or served with bolognese pizza.

More Vegetable Side Dishes

Caramelized Braised Leeks

5 from 7 votes
A round white plate with tender caramelized halved leeks with fresh thyme sprigs next to a shallow bowl with a lemon half and more fresh thyme.
Braised leeks are halved and seared until golden brown before getting braised in a cooking liquid to yield the most tender leeks. This easy side dish is dairy free and gluten free.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Serving Size 4

Ingredients
 

  • 3 medium-large leeks save the leek greens for later use
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ¾ cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 lemon, juiced about 2 tablespoons
  • fresh thyme sprigs plus more for garnish
  • flaky sea salt for serving

Instructions

  • Use a sharp knife to trim off the leek greens right where the light green ends and the dark green parts begin. Set aside the dark greens for later use. Slice each leek in half lengthwise. Trim off the hairy end of the leek (if it has it – some don't) but keep the root end intact.
  • When cleaning leeks, it's important to get between the layers because that's where the dirt gathers. So thoroughly wash each half under cold running water to remove the dirt and grit. Shake off any excess water, pat dry with a clean dish towel or paper towel, and set aside.
  • Heat a large skillet (that has a lid you'll use later) over medium heat. Once warm, add a drizzle of olive oil along with the sugar and salt. Give it a quick stir and add the leeks in a single layer with the cut side down. Cook them for 5 minutes on the first side, flip, and cook for 2-3 more minutes.
  • Add the broth, lemon juice, and fresh thyme sprigs. Cover with a lid and reduce to medium-low heat. Cook covered for 25 minutes undisturbed.
  • After the 25 minutes are up, remove the lid and the sprigs of thyme, increase to medium-high heat, and boil until the liquid has reduced by half.
  • To serve, drizzle the reduced liquid in the pan over the top of the leeks and top with flaky sea salt and any additional ingredients such as lemon zest or fresh herbs.

Notes

See the blog post for ideas on how to serve braised leeks and how to store them. As well as how to use the leftover leek greens.

Make It Your Way: Substitutions & Variations

No olive oil? – You can also use dairy-free butter or unsalted butter if not dairy-free.
No lemons? – Instead of lemon juice, use dry white wine such as sauvignon blanc, about 2 tablespoons.
No fresh thyme? – You can substitute another fresh herb like rosemary, dill, or oregano.

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