I’m taking a sick day today. Picked up a case of strep throat at the end of last week that’s now hopefully working its way out of my system. But sick days are boring, and instead of streaming yet another movie or show, I thought I would share the recipe for my favorite soup.
My dad was a trained chef. He cooked many of our family meals when I was growing up. But I think the food I most connect with my father was his soup. And the soup that I think of first and foremost was his potato leek.
After he died I started making the soup every year on his birthday. Potato leek for me has a kind of magical quality. My dad would make it in big batches. He made it for us but would also often share it with friends around town. I remember coming back home to visit from college, if he had made soup it would always come with an offer.
“Hey Chris, would you like a mug of soup?”
The soup was rarely a dinner of ours. Sometimes it was a lunch. But mostly it was just there when you needed a nice warm mug of something tasty. Why a mug and not a bowl? No idea. I think this soup is really the only food we ever ate out of mugs.
And while I can’t make a mug for you right now (even if we lived close I don’t think you want someone with strep making you soup), I can offer you a recipe.
It’s pretty easy, the most annoying part is cleaning the leeks. But it is worth the effort.
My dad’s recipes were like directions before Google maps. They were never set in stone and based often on whim and the availability of certain ingredients. But I’ll do my best to give you something you can follow.
- A bunch of leeks (A bunch usually includes 2 or 3 often held together with a big rubber band).
- Some potatoes (Yukon gold potatoes were his favorite for this. Like 4 or 5 medium sized potatoes).
- Half & Half (2 cups)
- Butter (Unsalted, 1 stick)
- Stock (~6 cups, give or take depending on how thick you like your soup. He used chicken stock, vegetable if you want it vegetarian).
- Garlic (how much depends on your taste)
- Salt & Pepper (too your taste)
- Wash the leeks.
This part is a pain because there is usually lots of sand all around the inside of the leeks. To do it I usually cut the base & tips of the leaves (leaving most of the dark green parts). Then slice the leek in half longways. Then you fill your sink with water and drop all the leaves in, agitate the water with your fingers and the sand should fall the the bottom while the leaves float.
- Cut the leeks.
Eventually we are going to blend the soup, but they soften better if you chop them into smaller pieces.
- Cook leeks & garlic with butter until soft.
Throw the butter into the bottom of a stock pot and turn it on medium until melted. Then drop in all your leeks. If you’re using garlic cloves, drop them in during this stage. Cook for a while, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat so it doesn’t stick. You want them nice and soft and cooking it for awhile will break down all the little fibers.
- Peel and Quarter potatoes.
Keep the pieces in a bowl of cold water as you peel to remove some of the starch.
- Boil potatoes until soft.
Now drop the potatoes in another pot filled with fresh cold water. Then bring to a boil and then simmer until the potatoes are soft. Once you can easily pierce with a fork drain off the water using a colander.
- Mix together Leeks, Potatoes, and Stock
Once leeks & potatoes are soft, drop the potatoes in with the leeks and add then stock. Then bring to a boil. Let it simmer together for a little bit.
- Blend it together.
An immersion blender is a fantastic tool for this. In the old days my dad used to scoop it all out into a regular blender.
- Add half & half and blend some more.
You want it nice and smooth. If the leeks weren’t soft enough, chances are they’ll stick in clumps in your immersion blender. The soup will still taste good, it will just be a little chewier than you want.
- Adjust to liking.
Want it “soupier” add more stock. Want more salt, add more salt. Same goes with pepper and garlic. I don’t think two of my dad’s pots of soup were ever the same, that’s part of their charm.
- Serve in mugs.
Even if you never serve soup or any other kind of food in mugs.
- Share/keep in fridge/freeze.
This soup can be frozen. It can be brought to pot-lucks. It can be brought to sick friends. It can be shared at work. Offer it at times people are not used to eating. It’s an especially good mid-afternoon, mid-morning, or late evening snack.
The thing about recipes and cooking.
Cooking isn’t baking. The instructions are often not that precise, you usually don’t have to cook with fidelity. Most recipes, even the ones that seem precise, can be fudged. Where baking is a kind of hard science, cooking is more a social science.
It’s kind of like the programs you evaluate. A lot of organizations may try to follow recipes, but they usually tweak things based on available ingredients and taste. Sometimes it comes out better, sometimes worse.
But either way, it’s the outcomes that really matter.
My dad’s soup never won awards. But now, even a half decade after his death, his soups still bring back memories. Anytime over the last couple of decades that I have run into my best friend’s dad, he has always mentioned how a certain cream of mushroom soup my father made when I was younger was the best he had ever had.
I hope you make the soup. I hope you share the soup. I hope you drink it out of a mug.
But even if you don’t. I hope you find the soup like thing in your life. The thing that you deliver and share with love. The thing that will undoubtedly make impressions on the people whose lives you have touched.