When I returned from a semester of college in England, I brought back several things in addition to a suitcase bursting with souvenirs: A blossoming appreciation for history and art, a disappointed certainty that I will never be able to do a convincing British accent, and a longing for many of the foods I tasted for the first time while abroad. Prawn-flavored potato crisps, anyone?
Whenever I'm feeling wistful about those days, I whip up a batch of potato leek soup. It was served in the dining room of my college about once a week, and the smell alone transports me back across “the pond” every time.
Some say the soup is an Irish dish, others say it started in Wales. There is a cold version called vichyssoise that has French ties but was popularized in the U.S. a little over a century ago.
The basic ingredients are simple: Leeks, onions, potatoes and stock. It is a humble soup with a delicate flavor.
Though I often crave that basic taste, I've experimented with a number of additional ingredients over the years. Celery adds freshness, parsnips add sweet notes, a bit of dill or thyme deliver interesting dimension, and roasted red pepper was a terrible choice I will never repeat.
My favorite variation is adding lemon and parsley, which embrace the simple flavors of the original and add a burst of brightness.
Leeks are related to both garlic and onion, and have a flavor more mild than either. The white and light green parts are fine to cook with, but I find the darker green tops too tough for many uses. Instead, I rinse the tops and save them in my freezer with other vegetable scraps to include when making my next batch of stock.
Leeks are grown in sandy conditions, and grit can be found between almost every layer. After removing the root and tops, cut the remaining stalk in half lengthwise before slicing the leek. Put the slices in a colander or large strainer and place it in the sink. Toss the slices while running under water, and make sure to separate all the layers. The sand rinses right off.
I use white pepper in my Potato Leek Soup for a couple reasons. First, I don't like seeing black flecks floating around in the classic pale version of the soup. Also, white pepper has a slightly earthier aroma and flavor.
That said, black pepper will work fine in this soup, but it is spicier than white pepper so start with less than this recipe calls for and adjust to your taste.
The soup is great with a chunk of crusty bread, a ham sandwich or piece of roasted chicken. It also freezes well; reheat while stirring until the soup is smooth again.
Potato Leek Soup with Lemon and Parsley
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, sliced and cleaned (about 3 cups)
1 yellow onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
2 medium Russet potatoes, chopped (about 3 cups)
1/2 teaspoon white pepper, or to taste
Salt, to taste
7 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped (about 1 cup)
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium high heat. Add leeks and onions and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes.
Add potatoes, pepper and salt. Stir and continue cooking 1 minute.
Pour in stock and make sure potatoes are covered. Add more salt if needed. Raise heat to high and bring contents of pot to a boil, then lower heat to medium and simmer until potatoes are cooked, about 8 minutes.
Turn off heat. Stir in parsley and lemon juice, and let sit to cool slightly.
Puree the contents of the pot until smooth using an immersion blender or working in small batches with a countertop blender. If soup is too thick, add more stock; if too thin, simmer while stirring until the desired thickness is reached.
Variation: To make a classic Potato Leek Soup, omit the parsley and lemon juice in the above recipe.
Recipe Swap is published the second Tuesday of each month. Corey McMaken is a home cook, not a food expert.
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