I don’t give leeks enough respect.
As a kid in the grocery store, leeks were GIANT GREEN ONIONS! HEY MOM, LOOK!
Out of season they cost too much. In season, they’re not front-and-center enough. But I need to change that. I do love them so.
Part of the lily family and related to onions and garlic. If you haven’t had them, they’re mild onions without some of the sweetness you might expect. Amazing in soup, like today, or even raw in a salad. Roasted with lemon. Really any way you might use an onion. But you know I love soups!
From Kettner’s Book of the Table, 1877, “[The leek] was at one time so much cultivated in England that the very name for a garden was leac-tun, and the very name for a gardener was leac-ward.”
They have a long history around the Mediterranean and we know they were part of the food rations in Ancient Egypt for the workers building the pyramids. As legend has it, in Ancient Rome, Emperor Nero drank leek soup every day to help improve his singing voice.
I looked through a few books in my library for a soup recipe. Oddly, I couldn’t find it in my 1896 Fannie Farmer but it was in my 1936 Boston School of Cooking Cook Book (with celery and a bit of cayenne).
This is another dish I’ve never thought of in recipe terms. For me, it’s about ratios. Let me explain.
I buy leeks when they look good at the market or in the store. How many? Usually three or four at a time, depending on how big they are and how they’re being bundled.
So how many medium-sized potatoes? Same as the leeks. If I get three of one, I’ll get three of the other. Is it exact grams, pounds, or cups? No. They don’t all grow exactly the same size and I’ll be darned if I’m going to throw away three inches of leek trim because it’s off weight to the recipe.
How many cups of stock? Same.
How many cups of water? Same.
For today, 4 leeks, 4 potatoes, 4 cups of homemade chicken stock, 4 cups of water.
Sure, you could use all stock, all water, or vegetable broth to keep it vegetarian. I’ve seen people do it every way many times. Julia Child only used water, for example. I use half-stock half-water because I don’t really want it to taste so much like a chicken soup but my homemade chicken stock is to. die. for.
But you do you.
In my soup pot, I sauté the leeks in a few tablespoons of butter and a couple good pinches of kosher salt for about 10 minutes. Just to tenderize them.
Then I add the potatoes, stock, water, bay leaves, and several healthy grinds of black pepper. Some folks (like Alice Waters) also like to add some thyme, a couple sprigs or so.
Bring that to a boil (takes about 10 minutes), reduce to a simmer, and let it go for 20 more minutes. Stir it now and then.
Remove the bay leaves.
Taste it for salt and pepper. Adjust as necessary. If your stock or broth is salted already, then you’ll add less. Be warned, the stock or broth they sell in the store usually has a goodly amount of salt added. When I make it myself, I don’t add salt because I’ve no idea what I’ll use it for later.
Now, people enjoy this soup in many different ways.
Some like to puree it in a blender. If you do, be very careful! Hot liquids in a blender can blow the top off of your blender and the hot soup will burn you. So hold on tight. Blend it for at least a couple of minutes and pour it back through a wire strainer.
Also, if you puree, try to get russet potatoes. The added starch and finer texture seems to work better.
One of the things they teach you in cooking school is that potatoes in a blender tends to come out gummy. In a perfect world, you’d cut the potatoes larger and them push them through a drum sieve. But that’s a lot of work.
I like to use an immersion blender (hand blender) for about 10 seconds right in the pot. It thins out the vegetables and thickens the soup at the same time. But it leaves a lot of vegetables intact – it’s still a chunky soup.
I prefer it warm, some people like it chilled. That used to be called, with cream added, vichyssoise.
Myself, I add a bit of cream once the pot is off the heat.
Again, you do you.
In fact… Bonus Tip for Crossword People.
Clue: Crème Gauloise, today.
Potato Leek Soup
Potato Leek Soup is an ancient peasant dish still popular today. Plus, it’s easy to make and tastes amazing. Visit suppertimeblues.com to learn more.
- 2-3 tablespoons butter
- 4 leeks
- 4 medium-sized potatoes
- 4 cups chicken stock preferably homemade
- 4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- Several grinds of black pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Trim the roots and dark green leaves from the leeks. Slice in half from end-to-end. Fan out the leaves and wash well to remove any dirt. Slice the leeks into ¼ inch pieces.
- Peel the potatoes. Cut into quarters lengthwise and then into ¼ inch slices like the leeks.
- Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium-high heat.
- Add the leeks plus a couple pinches of the salt and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
- Add the potatoes, stock, water, bay leaves, remaining salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil (about 10 minutes), reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for about 20 more minutes. The potatoes should be fork tender but not dissolve.
- Remove from heat. Discard the bay leaves.
- Stir in cream, if desired.
- Taste. Adjust salt and pepper to your liking.
- Puree, if desired. Garnish with croutons, if desired.
Soup will keep, sealed up in the refrigerator, for at least a couple of days.
Serve at lunch or dinner, with a salad or vegetable or as a beginning soup course. As you can see, I like a few croutons myself.