Soups and Stews

Leek and Potato Soup

My dad is a meat-and-potatoes-loving, comfort food-eating farmer.

We don’t always see eye-to-eye on food — I insist that corn is a starch, not a vegetable; he questions my decision to pair meat and fruit together in a dish — but that doesn’t stop him from taking an interest in what I’m doing, even from 1,277 miles away.

He’s a good reminder to keep my cooking simple and accessible, to never assume that what I’m cooking or eating is commonplace.

Today’s conversation was one such reminder.

“You’re making what and potato soup?” my dad asked. “Meat? What kind of meat?”

Leeks. L-E-E-K-S.

“What’s a leek?”

Well, it’s like a mild onion. It looks like a green onion on steroids.

“Never heard of it. Is that a regional thing? Do they grow that around here?”

No, they’re —

And then I catch myself. I have no doubt leeks are available in Nebraska, but come to think of it, I don’t think I had eaten them until a few years ago. It’s one of many foods I didn’t grow up eating, but have learned to love.

Leeks

And as I was typing this the best ad of the Super Bowl came on. Serendipity.

Note to self: remember your roots.

Leeks hold onto a surprisingly large amount of dirt, even if they look clean on the surface.

Leeks are dirtier than you realize

After removing the roots and dark green tops, slice them lengthwise, plunge them into a bowl of water, and give them a good scrub with your hands before returning them to the cutting board.

This soup is simple, classic French cooking, perfect for a cold winter’s night. The total cooking time is just over an hour, half of which is hands-off, making it achievable on a weeknight as well as a weekend. The soup is great with a salad or sandwich, or as a side to the protein of your choice. Substitute water or vegetable broth for the chicken broth for a true vegetarian option.

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Leek and Potato Soup

Adapted from Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan

6 servings

2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, split, germ removed, and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper (note: the original recipe calls for white pepper; I used black)
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, split lengthwise, washed, and thinly sliced
1 or 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed (use 2 if you like a heartier soup)
6 sprigs thyme
4 cups chicken broth (or water)
3 cups whole or 2% milk

Optional toppings: Snipped fresh chives; minced parsley, sage, tarragon, and/or marjoram; grated Parmesan or Gruyere; croutons; a drizzle of truffle oil; cooked, crumbled bacon

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or soup pot over low heat. Add the onion and garlic and stir until they glisten with butter. Season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook until the onion is soft but not colored, about 10 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients, along with a little more salt, increase the heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as the soup bubbles, turn the heat to low, mostly cover the pot, and simmer gently for 30 to 40 minutes, or until all the vegetables are mashably soft. Taste the soup; season generously with salt and pepper.

You can serve the soup as is, mash lightly with the back of a spoon, or puree the soup through a food mill, blender, immersion blender, or food processor. If desired, garnish with the topping(s) of your choice. Or, if you prefer, chill it and serve cold.

Store leftover soup covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, or pack airtight and freeze up to 2 months.

Chicken Soup with Root Vegetables

It’s been nearly a year since I took possibly the biggest step of my life to date: on November 30, 2011, I become a homeowner. It’s only 600 square feet, but I love every inch of it.

Closing night in my new home

This isn’t just my first time as a homeowner: it’s also my first time living solo. The latter has been a bigger adjustment, but a valuable one for self-discovery and personal growth. Living alone has made me a little more organized and tidy (baby steps!), more social, and a better friend. I am less likely to take my down time for granted, and more likely to say yes to an invitation or extend one myself.

The first homecooked meal I ate in my new home was Chicken with Root Vegetable Soup. I hadn’t actually moved in yet, and the only furnishings that had made the trip so far were a card table and chairs, a lamp, and the living room rug, when I suddenly found myself hosting a Christmakah gift exchange with friends.

No matter! I had made this soup for the first time a few weeks before and loved it, and on this windy, chilly day, this sounded perfect. I made the soup ahead of time at my apartment and picked up good bread and cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches. I packed up the food, a favorite bottle of wine and a corkscrew, the Dutch oven, a grill pan, and enough dinnerware for the group. First dinner party in the new home = a smashing success.

The combination of bay leaves, allspice, and root vegetables gives this soup a very fragrant aroma and flavorful broth.

Root vegetables offer a unique, nutritious twist on traditional chicken soup.

This recipe marks my first foray into celery root. Look for a future post about this mysterious vegetable, but suffice to say, it tastes like celery’s milder, buttery cousin, and it’s definitely worth trying.

Note that this soup doesn’t hold well; the sweet potatoes in particular will disintegrate if left too long, or reheated slowly. If you need to make it advance, I suggest making the stock, roasting the vegetables in the oven, and combining the two along with the chicken when ready to serve.

Root vegetables — plentiful and nutritious in winter — include celery root, carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes.

This winter soup is best eaten immediately.

Chicken Soup with Root Vegetables

Adapted from Bon Appetit

Makes 6 servings

Stock:
1 roast chicken (approx 3 1/2 lbs)
1 large onion, halved
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3 carrots, cut into chunks
3 celery stalks, cut into chunks
2 Bay leaves
4 large fresh thyme sprigs
4 large fresh Italian parsley sprigs
8 whole allspice
3 or more quarts water (approx.)

Soup:
1 c chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus additional to taste
6 cups root vegetables, peeled and cut into 1/3 inch cubes as follows:
1 1/2 c carrots
2 c celery root
1 c parsnips
1 1/2 c sweet potatoes
Freshly ground black pepper

Cut meat off chicken and dice. Set aside. Place carcass and all stock ingredients in a stock pot or a Dutch oven with at least 5-quart capacity. The carcass and vegetables should be completely submerged in water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat. Simmer 1 1/4 hours. Strain broth; return to pot and boil until reduced to 7 cups. Make ahead: Stock can be made up to two days in advance, and stored covered in the refrigerator. Store meat separately in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Alternatively, the chicken can be roasted and prepped one day in advance; store the carcass in a large zip-locked plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Heat oil in another large pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion, sliced garlic, and 2 bay leaves; sauté 2 minutes. Add broth and all ingredients except sweet potatoes and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 7 minutes. Add sweet potatoes and continue simmering until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Add diced chicken; season with more salt and pepper. Heat through.