Leeks are alliums, a family of vegetables that includes garlic, chives, onions, shallots, and more. All alliums share an onion-like taste but vary in their levels of sweetness and spiciness. Leeks have a relatively moderate taste. They have a delicate onion-like taste that adds richness to foods like pasta, risotto, soups, or stew.
As far as finding a substitute for leeks goes, you mostly only need to look to the allium family for viable candidates. Here’s a curated list of the top 8 alternatives for leeks that will work for a variety of recipes.
#1. White Onions
White onions are a cultivar of dry onion and make an excellent substitute for leeks. They’re pure white, have thin skin with many layers of crispy and juicy white rings within. They’re relatively milder and sweeter than other onions.
Because they offer delicate flavors, white onions are often consumed raw in dishes like salads and sandwiches or condiments such as salsa and guacamole. If you’re looking for a substitute for leeks to use in a recipe that doesn’t require cooking, white onion is the best choice.
1 Cup Chopped Leeks = 1 Cup Chopped White Onion.
Shallots are one of the many botanical varieties of the onion with a flavor profile that can match any dish that calls for leeks. They have a delicate sweet flavor with a hint of sharpness but don’t bring as much heat as onions. Some people describe shallots as a hybrid of onions and garlic.
Shallots are smaller than onions, teardrop-shaped, and have a pink to brown coating, depending on how long they’ve been on the shelf. They’re pretty easy to spot at your local produce section. Chopped shallots will give your dish a pop of sharp acidity and sweetness with a hint of garlic-like taste.
1 Cup Chopped Leeks = ¾ Cup Chopped Shallots.
#3. Scallions or Green Onions
Scallions, also known by the names “green onion” and “spring onion”, are virtually indistinguishable from leeks in terms of both looks and flavor. The only distinguishing factor is that scallions have slightly longer green leaves and white stalks.
Scallions taste similar to white onions because they are the immature parts of white onions. But the intensity and heat are relatively lower, making them a perfect addition to salads. Scallions are commonly used as a garnish over many traditional Asian dishes like noodles or stir-fries. They give the overall flavor more depth, warmth, aroma, and complexity.
1 Cup Chopped Leeks = 1 Cup Chopped Scallions.
It’s rare to find a dish that wouldn’t be improved by a touch of garlic. It’s one of the most adaptable flavors on the planet. From Italian sauces to Indian curries, garlic is a crucial ingredient in a vast majority of cuisines around the world. It’s an ingredient that adds just the right amount of kick to the overall taste of a dish and helps all the other spices cut through with a pleasant finish.
While garlic will give you a very similar flavor to leeks, the texture is quite different. If you want to experience the texture of leeks too, you can roast the garlic a little beforehand before chopping it up to add it to your recipe. You can even find powdered garlic at the supermarket. Garlic has a pretty intense flavor, so you’d best start with a little and only add more if needed.
1 Cup Chopped Leeks = ½ Cup Chopped Garlic.
Celery is the only non-allium to make this list. It’s the wild card that offers an exceptional taste to match. Celery’s mildly earthy and peppery flavors with a pleasant citrus freshness are very pronounced and provide a similar tingling sensation to onions and leeks when used in recipes.
It’s not the ideal substitute but helps achieve all of the same effects as leeks, albeit mildly. Celery also won’t add as much warmth to your dish as leeks. Another drawback of using celery is that it can get soft and lose its crunch if it’s cooked for too long. However, if you’re swapping leeks for celery in a raw salad or stew, it may just be the perfect ingredient.
1 Cup Chopped Leeks = 1½ Cup Chopped Celery.
#6. Fresh Chives
Chives are more of a herb than an onion. They’re green, grow in long stalks, and give off a minty herbaceous aroma. If you’re looking for a substitute for leeks that’s less potent in taste, chop up some fresh chives and add them in there. You can sprinkle chives over your food as a garnish, although be wary, while it’s mild in flavor the aroma is pretty strong.
Chives go really well as a garnish over creamy soups, flavored butter, fish fillets, potatoes, and pasta. It’s not as intense as leeks, so you can feel a bit more generous when adding chives.
1 Cup Chopped Leeks = 1 Cup Chopped Chives.
#7. Red Onions
Red onion is one of the stronger kinds of onions, as can be guessed by its color. It has a deep purple outer skin and reddish flesh, and it’s larger than most onions. Red onions are typically used in Asian cuisine because it complements the spicy exotic flavors better. But you can also use them in salads, roasts, marinades, and salsas.
Red onions are sweeter and warmer than leeks but taste very similar. They won’t give you the same colorful garnish, aroma, or texture as leeks but are a good substitute for flavor. Cooking or grilling the onions may also help mitigate some of its warmth.
1 Cup Chopped Leeks = ⅓ Cup Chopped Red Onion.
Ramps are basically wild leeks and taste the same. Some supermarkets confuse ramps with leeks, so if you don’t see leeks anywhere, check around for some wild ramps. They look kind of like scallions except they’re smaller and have one or two flat, broad leaves.
Ramps can be a bit more pungent and oniony than leeks, so you might want to start with a little first and add more as you go on.
1 Cup Chopped Leeks = 1 Cup Chopped Wild Ramps.