Leeks, like onions, make an excellent addition to hearty meals and are packed with flavor – this is why they are often used as the first step in the pot or pan. But what happens if you don’t have leeks and your recipe calls for it? Are there simple substitutes for leeks available that won’t tank your meal plans?
Leeks can be replaced with onions, scallions, shallots, or even spring onions – all come from the same family and share similar flavors. Fennel and celery are good substitutes, although they taste different. Depending on your taste, you may need to use different quantities when you replace leeks.
Is it as simple as just replacing leeks with onions in your meals, or is there more to the flavor profile that you should be aware of? Let’s look at what foods are equivalent to leeks in terms of flavor and how to measure when substituting.
What Can I Use As A Substitute For Leeks?
When you’re looking for a replacement for leeks, you need to consider what flavor you’re aiming for and what the purpose of the leeks are in your meal. Are they simply to add depth and flavor to your dish, or were you hoping to serve them as a side dish, grilled to perfection on their own?
If you are looking for a mild, sweet onion to form the basis of your stews, soups, or even risotto, there are various onions, shallots, and scallions that you can use. Celery makes for a wonderful replacement in stock and soups, while chives and spring onions serve as a better replacement in salads and slaws.
But, in some cases, personal preferences or lack of availability may mean that you need to find a substitute. Depending on what flavor you’re trying to achieve in your dish, there are options for replacing leeks in your recipe.
Unless you’re explicitly serving leeks as a side dish, you will want to replace them with someone else in your dish. What can you cook with if you don’t have leeks on hand or prefer not to use them? What are the best substitutions for leeks when you’re cooking?
Substitute #1: White Or Yellow Onion
Onions are the most accessible replacement for leeks as the taste is closest, and, when cooked, onions are a little sweeter and will be similar in texture to the leek. You can further mitigate differences by slicing the onion thinly and cooking them in butter to soften them to get as close to the leek experience.
In dishes that require raw onion, the texture will be markedly different – onions are more crunchy and much more pungent, so lightly sauteing is recommended to tone the taste down.
Substitute #2: Shallots
Very similar in appearance to onions, shallots have a sharper taste profile and are not quite as overwhelming when used in cooking. They make a suitable replacement for leeks when browned or caramelized. Some folks note there is more of a garlic taste to shallots, so bear this in mind when looking for a replacement.
Substitute #3: Spring Onions
Leeks and spring onions look much the same, although leeks are larger and have more fibrous, thicker green leaves. Spring onion is best when used fresh, though, so consider replacing leeks with these in salads, scrambled eggs, pasta, or stir-fries. An added benefit of using spring onions is the vibrant green they add to your dish.
Substitute #4: Scallions
These are also members of the onion family, scallions look similar to shallots, spring onions, and leeks, but the white bulb at the base of the plant has not yet fully developed. Scallions are fragrant and mild and make an excellent replacement for leeks in all kinds of dishes.
Substitute #5: Fennel
Fennel is a vegetable with a strong aniseed flavor that has a similar look and feel to that of leeks. It is particularly delicious in stews and with roasts and, when softened in butter, also makes for an ideal side dish. Using fennel as a substitute for leeks is best when you are planning on serving leeks as a dish on its own.
Substitute #6: Celery And Celery Leaves
This is a beneficial substitution if you’re cooking for someone with a severe allergy to any onion, although it doesn’t quite offer the taste benefits of the onion-like leek. However, the green color, texture, and fresh taste of celery add a deep layer of flavor, so this is still a great option.
Using just the leaves will give a much stronger flavor, so bear that in mind when substituting. This is a suitable replacement for soups and stews.
What Are Leeks Anyway?
Like onions, shallots, and scallions, leeks are an excellent base to start cooking many savory dishes with. Also from the Allium family, leeks have a white portion and then some thick-leafed green parts, much like a larger spring onion. And depending on what you’re cooking, you’ll want to use either the light green and white parts or the fibrous green leaves, as each piece has a unique taste.
Leeks are generally used as a foundation for dishes or as part of soups and stock and are considered to be a little milder than onions and not quite as sharp as scallions. They add great flavor to meat dishes and vegetarian meals, but they can also be served as a side dish on their own.
The taste you can expect from a leek is similar to that of an onion, just a little sweeter and less intense. You’ll notice when cooking with leeks that they don’t leave you with teary eyes as they are not quite as strong in aroma or taste. This is one reason they make a great addition to salads or slaws when raw.
More Questions About Leek Substitutes
If I can’t find leeks, can I use onion powder?
If you were adding leeks to a dish simply for the flavor, using onion powder is no harm in enhancing what you were cooking. Just be aware that onion powders can be pretty intense and bear a closer resemblance to white onion and garlic than it does to the sweeter, milder leek.
Do chives make a good substitute for leeks?
Unlike most of the suggested substitutes mentioned above, chives are not a vegetable, nor are they part of the onion family. These are considered to be a herb, and they have an intense, herby aroma and taste. Their fragrance is powerful, and they are generally added as a garnish or to flavoring for fish, pasta, potatoes, or even salads.
When substituting leeks, do I use the exact quantities?
If you’re replacing leeks with something mild and sweet, such as scallions, you can use more or less the same quantity. White or yellow onions are more pungent in taste, so a little less is needed to achieve the same effect. If you’re using a red onion, you only need a third of the quantity, as they are potent. You can add more celery, however, as this is mild and doesn’t have any heat.
Can I use bok choy instead of leeks?
Bok choy is a Chinese cabbage with a very delicate taste, while leeks have a much stronger flavor. Bok choy tends to be used very differently, with more significant quantities forming the base of stir-fries or eaten grilled. Leeks are typically used as a means of flavoring dishes rather than making up the most part of it.
Leeks are a unique and amazing vegetable. If you can use them in your recipe, definitely do! But if you must substitute, you will have to choose from other onions, or veggies with similar texture but different flavor, like fennel. Good luck!