How to Use Leftover Leek, Scallion and Green Onion Tops
So many recipes call for the dark greens of leeks, scallions and green onions to be “reserved for another use.” Why give the most colorful part of these alliums such short shrift? They are full of flavor and nutrition and bring a bright blast of green to your dish. But in many recipes, we cooks are directed to set them aside. Which all too often means they will be either immediately tossed in the bin or left to linger in the crisper until they turn into a swamp creature. Well, waste those mean greens no longer. Follow these tips for using up those verdant ends or the whole lovely, oniony thing.
Cleaning and Trimming
Almost all parts of these lilies are edible and easy to cook. When you get them home, you want to store them, loosely wrapped in reusable plastic or damp paper towels in the refrigerator. When ready to use, trim the bulb just above the hairy roots and cut away any part of the greens that are withered.
Cleaning is important. The hollow stems of scallions and green onions make them prime vehicles for harboring dirt and bacteria. If you buy them pre-trimmed (the tops do not come to their lovely natural points) you need to clean out the green “straw” shaped part of the plant thoroughly. The best way to do it is to cut through the slide of the green stem so you can run water and your finger over the interior of the tube-like structure to get it squeaky clean.
While leeks do not share the same hollow stem structure, they are notorious for being super gritty. To be sure to get out every last grain, you want to cut the leek in half lengthwise so you can separate and wash each individual layer of the plant. Dry them thoroughly and you are ready to proceed with your recipe.
Cooking Scallion Greens
The green part of a scallion or green onion is the least pungent part of the plant. The greens bring a light onion flavor where the light part of the plant or their bulging bulb relatives, such as red and yellow onions, would overpower a dish. Because their flavor is so delicate, you can use scallion or green onion greens raw or in great quantities without knocking your taste buds out. Cooked, they mellow even more; bringing subtle flavor but also visual interest that wouldn’t be available with their pale root end. Try them in some of these dishes:
- Charred: You can throw scallion greens on the grill, calçotada style. And slurp them down with a carafe of red wine like they do in Spain.
- Pureed: Turn the greens into a lovely chimichurri-like sauce by giving them a whizz in the blender with some fresh herbs, olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar. Finish with a hefty pinch of dried thyme and oregano and some salt and pepper.
- Garnish: The green part of a scallion or green onion makes a great substitute for chives. Just give them a quick mince.
- Tarts and quiche: Add the greens to the filling of a tart, quiche or Spanish tortilla.
- Scallion pancakes: These Asian apps are a quick way to dispatch a hefty quantity of greens in no time flat.
- Scallion spread: Mince up scallion or green onion greens and add them to a mixture of half goat cheese and half cream cheese. Blend with a pinch of salt and pepper for a “gourmet” cheese spread.
- Scallion hummus: Add a few chopped onion greens to your next batch of hummus for a little flavor and color boost.
- “Gremolata” with scallions: Riff on the classic Italian condiment by substituting scallion greens for parsley. Mince together a few scallion or green onion greens, one clove garlic, zest of a lemon and salt; mince. Sprinkle a pinch of this zingy garnish on slow roasted foods to brighten their flavor.
- Scallion top compound butter: Blend the “gremolata” mixture above with a stick of softened butter. Press into a ramekin or form into a patty or roll and refrigerate for up to five days or freeze for up to three months. Add a pat to cooked chicken, fish or steak; stir into hot cooked rice or pasta; or slather on grilled bread.
- Eat those scallion tops! You can always just ignore the recipe and use the whole scallion or green onion — white root to green tip.
In the field, leeks are tall gangly things with green tops that grow so high they fall over from their own weight. When you find them in the market, they most often have had their greens trimmed for easier handling but even at that, there is still a substantial length of the green parts left for home cooking. Leek greens last for quite a while in the fridge, even after they have been separated from the white part of the plant. Keep them covered or wrapped so they don’t lose their moisture and you can count on them to stay fresh for at least five days.
Leek greens are more fibrous than white and light green part of the plant so they need a little extra attention in the kitchen. Cutting them very finely is one way to deal with their toothsome texture. Cooking them for a long time or at a high heat will do the trick, too. Here are a few ideas for using up your leek greens:
- Grilled leek greens: The char of the grill is a delicious complement to leeks, even the greens.
- Use leek greens as a wrap: Use leek leaves like banana leaves to wrap foods before steaming or grilling. The wrap protects the food from drying out and imparts a little onion flavor to the dish.
- Leek sauce: Braise the leek greens in a little stock. Purée until smooth with ricotta and parmesan cheese and toss with pasta.
- Leek marinade for meat: Purée leek greens with oil, mustard, vinegar, salt, pepper to make a marinade for steak or pork.
- Leek stuffing: Put leek greens in the cavity of a chicken or turkey before roasting to flavor your bird.
- Sautéed leek greens: Sauté chopped leek greens with fatty pork such as bacon or pancetta for a tasty side dish.
- Stir fry leek greens: Stir fried leek greens make a popular Asian dish.
- Use leek greens for flavoring: Add leek greens to your boiling water to flavor pasta or potatoes as they cook.
- Vichyssoise: OK, so it won’t be classic vichyssoise if you add the green part of the leek but it will still be delicious! (see recipe below)
- Frizzled leek greens: Slice leek greens very thinly and flash fry in a little neutral flavored oil for a tasty, sort of 1980s, garnish.
- Braised greens: Slow braising makes leeks and their greens meltingly tender. Braise them in cream for a luscious treat.
- Leek vinaigrette: Purée a few leek greens with oil and vinegar for a flavor-forward vinaigrette.
- Pickled leeks: Make a brine of one part vinegar to one part water. Bring it to a boil and add a generous pinch of salt, pepper and sugar. Add leek greens, cut into three to four inch lengths, and remove from the heat. Cool, cover and refrigerate for up to three weeks. Serve on a cheese board or a sandwich.
- In soups, stocks, stews: You can always toss leek greens into the stock pot for both veggie and meat broths!
French food. So fine. So refined. Many French recipes, such as the classic chilled potato and leek soup, Vichyssoise, call for only the heart of the plant. The look is perfection, the flavor divine — but such recipes often leave an extra-large pile of trimmings. I’m sure when these recipes were put forth, the trimmings did not go to waste. Sacré bleu! But were used in a separate dish, leaving the soup light and lovely. In this recipe, I’ve included the dark green parts of the plant as well. It may look a little more rustic and have a more onion-forward taste, but it reduces waste and that is a beautiful thing.
2 tablespoons butter
2 leeks, washed and trimmed, as described above, and cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
1 pound of starchy potatoes, such as russet, cut into 1-inch dice
1 quart of chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
- In a medium saucepan, sauté the leeks, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, in butter until softened, about five minutes. Add the potatoes and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are falling apart, about ten to fifteen minutes.
- Remove from the heat and puree with a stick blender or in a standard blender, being mindful of the hot liquid. Pass the soup through a fine mesh strainer placed over a bowl. Use the back of a wooden spoon to press out all but the potato peels and leek fibers. Whisk in the cream and adjust the seasoning.
- You can return the soup to the pot and simmer gently to serve warm. Or cool it completely and serve the soup chilled.