Leeks, The Sensitive Onions…

It’s the end of March, and spring has finally arrived (yay)! The cold, damp, misery of winter is behind us, bring on the cold, damp, cheerfulness of spring! (Hey, I live in Canada, the difference between winter and spring is mainly mindset.)

Springtime in Canada is a gradual transition from the harsh winter months. Each day brings different weather; sunny skies one day give way to a foot of wet snow the next. As it gradually becomes warmer, and the melting snow turns the ground to slushy mud, I begin to cautiously creep from the safety and comfort of the many blankets that enrobe me, like a nervous cub poking it’s snout from the den for the first time. The first chilly weeks of the season also bring a craving for the earthy warmth of spring harvest vegetables, mainly in soup form. Carrot soup, parsnip soup, cauliflower soup, all form the basis for my March/April diet. (What can I say… I like soup a lot.)

There are many vegetables that can be overwintered, or planted in the early spring, and many of the milder members of the allium family, such as scallions, elephant garlic, and leeks are at their best this time of the year. Leeks are especially popular, their milder, onion-like flavour makes them the choice for those onion connoisseurs with a more delicate disposition. The thinking person’s onion, if you will. Combine them with potatoes, and you have one of my favourite soups: potato leek soup. Potato leek soup is great either hot or cold, in rain or in sunshine. Leeks, after all, are the national vegetable of Wales- a country that is known for its rather inclement, temperamental climate.

Usually, potato leek soup is made with cream and chicken stock. I personally have always felt that using cream in this soup makes it a bit too heavy for my liking. You can achieve a lighter, healthier, and (most importantly) vegetarian soup by omitting the cream and chicken stock, as well as the flour roux used to thicken the soup up. The potatoes will create the desired richness, and creamy consistency, after the soup is blended with an immersion blender. (If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular, countertop blender. Just make sure that you let the soup cool down first, and blend it in small batches if you don’t want to be cleaning up a really big mess. Really though, go invest in a decent stick blender with multiple speeds. You can often find them on sale, and your soup/sauce game will improve dramatically.)

Potato Leek Soup

(Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 1 hour 30 minutes. Makes 6-8 servings)

  • 2 tbsp salted butter (or vegetable oil for vegan soup)
  • 2 stalks of leeks, washed, root end and dark green leaves removed
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled, diced (omit for a lighter coloured soup)
  • 1/4 tsp caraway seeds
  • 3 large russet potatoes, peeled, chopped into small cubes
  • 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground mustard seeds
  • 6 cups cold water
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves

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(Although you don’t have to cut all the vegetables up very small, it will make blending the soup later on much easier, which will give you a much smoother texture.)

Prepare the leeks by washing them, and trimming off the root end (discard), and the tough, dark green leaves (save them for making homemade stock). Cut the stalks in half, lengthwise, then slice them thinly.

Melt the butter in a large soup pot, or dutch oven, over medium heat. Add the leeks and salt to the butter, and cook them slowly for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Try not to let the leeks brown. When the leeks are nice and soft, add the other vegetables except for the potatoes to the leeks. Continue to cook the vegetables over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until they have softened, and are fragrant. Add the caraway seeds to the vegetables, and cook for another 1 minute.

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By now, your kitchen has this beautiful, fresh vegetable smell, and the neighbours and local fauna are jealousy peering in your window. Pull the shades, and continue. Add the potatoes and spices to the vegetables, give them a couple of stirs, then pour in the water, and add the herbs, salt, and bay leaves to the pot. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer your soup for 1 hour to develop the flavours. In the meantime, shoo the drooling gawkers away from your windows, then do a little karaoke (I suggest some Tom Jones). Fun fact: the Romans believed that leeks had beneficial qualities for the voice. No wonder the Welsh are thought to be so musical.

When the hour is up remove the lid, turn off the heat, and let the soup sit and cool off slightly for 10 minutes. Resume singing while you wait. Discard the bay leaves, then place the end of the immersion blender completely into the soup, and carefully blend the soup on low speed, moving the blender around the pot. DO NOT lift the end of the blender above the halfway mark of the soup or it will splatter; and best case scenario, you wind up cleaning the walls of your kitchen, worst case scenario, you wind up in the burn ward. When the soup is nice and smooth, and all the chunks are eliminated, give your soup a taste, and adjust the seasoning if needed. If your soup is too thick for your liking, add a little more water to the soup, and blend it for another couple of seconds to get it incorporated.

Now, if you don’t have a blender, you can mix 1cup of half-&-half and 1/4 cup potato starch together,slowly whisk a couple of ladles of the hot broth in to temper the cream, then stir your thickener into the soup. Keep simmering the soup until it has thickened, then taste and adjust the seasoning.

This soup is so delicious, you’ll want to slather it all over your body! (Disclaimer: I do not recommend that anyone bathe in their soup, or use their soup as any type of beauty product. If you must do so, please make sure to let it cool down adequately first. Bathing in the soup will not make you more attractive, or clear up your skin. You will smell good though.) Make sure to enjoy your soup with plenty of grilled cheese sandwiches, or just a crusty baguette.

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So throw off those winter clothes, get outside, savour those spring vegetables, and get your body reconditioned for the summer months to come. (In my case, I’ll need a total teardown and rebuild.)

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