Monday, December 5, 2011

Leek and Potato Soup

This classic soup is one of my winter favorites - superb for “everyday” or for a formal dinner’s first course. Its preparation - all that peeling and slicing! - takes 20 minutes or so, but is greatly sped up when you use a food processor. Listen up, Southern Hemisphere readers! Very similar to Vichyssoise, this soup is excellent served chilled for summer gatherings! Up here in the Northern Hemisphere, I’ll heat mine, thanks! Theres a pot of this soup simmering on the stove as I write these words. If you could smell the delicious fragrance of fresh leeks that is now filling my kitchen, you’d want to make it right away!
Leek and Potato Soup:
2 tbsp. butter or margarine
2 large leeks, green parts trimmed away (see Note)
2 large or 5 small-to-medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly sliced 
1 small bunch of parsley (tied and kept whole) or 2 tbsp. dried parsley flakes, bundled and tied in a small square of cheesecloth 
4-to-5 c. chicken stock, commercially prepared or homemade (See the Index: How to Make Soup Stock)  
1 c. whipping cream (or half-and-half light cream)
¼ tsp. pepper (purists use white pepper)
Dash Worcestershire sauce
Dash nutmeg
Salt, to taste
Snipped chives, as garnish (I use dried chives in winter)
Melt butter on low heat in large, heavy pot. Slice the white part of the leeks thinly. Add to butter, stirring occasionally until soft. Stir in potatoes, celery, carrot, parsley, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook on medium-low 30 min., stirring occasionally. Insert a toothpick between lid and pot to allow steam to escape. Remove parsley. Purée in blender or with hand-blender, continuing until no lumps remain. Stir in cream and seasonings. Sprinkle with chives and serve at once. Serves 8.
Note: I want to comment on the components of this soup, starting with the leeks. In the Time Zone and at the Latitude Where I Live, leeks are very expensive. I don’t know why that is, because a leek is nothing more than a scallion with a superiority complex. In fact, many spices and herbs are very expensive - much more so than I suspect they should be. I find that disconcerting. I recently discovered that shopping in multicultural food stores (or in the multicultural section of my supermarket) can produce hefty savings - especially when you’re shopping for spices and herbs. 
This past weekend, I bought a large bag of dried, chopped leeks (an ounce of them, but an ounce of feathery-light dried leeks is a lot of leeks!) for $2.79. An equivalent amount of fresh leeks would probably have cost $6 or $7. With dried leeks in the cupboard, I can make this soup any old time I feel like it! Look for the Los Angeles-based Sadaf brand of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern products. If they aren’t on your supermarket shelf, check the website or speak to your store manager. The website is chock-a-block with great recipes, too!
At the time I found these dried leeks, I also discovered very large bottles of Greek oregano and basil in the multicultural section of my supermarket at a fraction the price you’d pay for the standard small bottles of spices and herbs. You’ll find some real bargains if you take the time to think and shop “outside the box.” Spices and herbs also cost less when you check for online bargains, shop in bulk food bins (to get as much or as little as you need), check out off-brand or no-name brands in dollar stores, or haul home mega-sized containers from Costco, splitting them among family and friends. 

It's long been said that herbs and spices maintain their freshness for only a year. I disagree. Store them in a cool, dry, dark place in airtight containers and theyll stay fresh several years!
You’ll also save money by asking yourself: “Do I really need this product?” Marjoram, for example, is a fancier version of oregano. Mace is the fine membrane that surrounds a whole nutmeg. Its flavor is slightly milder, but essentially the same. I recently saw less than an ounce of cinnamon-sugar at nearly $5 in the spice section of my supermarket. That is ridiculous, Dollinks! Buy yourselves a shaker bottle and once again consult my Index: You’ll find my entry for How to Make Cinnamon-Sugar embarrassingly easy. Buying products you can make in a matter of seconds is tantamount to setting your money on fire, pets. Don’t do that! Any time you feel the urge to waste money, simply mail it to me.  xox  Nicole

Trim, discard (or use to make stock) green portion of leek 

Slice leeks very thinly

Cook in butter over low heat until soft
Slice potatoes thinly

Peel and slice carrots thinly

Slice celery: Cook all vegetables until soft, about 30 min.

Purée using regular or hand-held blender

Dust with chives and serve piping hot!

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