Leek and potato soup: simple, hearty and delicious
Articles on food and cooking are rare on this blog, but occasionally I like to share some musings on this realm. Food is such an important part of our lives; and simple, healthy food can elevate our mood, boost our energy, heal our bodies, calm our stress and sooth our minds – which in turn makes more room and more energy for other things, such as philosophy, spirituality, politics or social issues – or anything that is important to us.
So, since nourishing ourselves is wise, here I’ve offered a short article on an easy, home-made, from-scratch soup that will warm your cockles and delight your taste buds. It’s a classic – and it’s surprisingly easy to make. It’s also vegan and very low-cost. Enjoy! The food and the cooking both, that is! Try to enjoy the journey, as well as the destination, once you arrive, as it has been wisely said before! Take it slow, and enjoy the ride.
Leek and potato soup
For my sister, and everyone else who loves good food
Makes a large pot of soup – I almost never measure anything, so I can’t tell you how much it will make. 6-8 bowls, would be my rough guess. And it will keep well in the fridge, or you can freeze part of it, I imagine – if by some strange fate it doesn’t get devoured in short order.
1 large bunch of leeks – or about 3-4 large leeks
2-3 pounds or more of potatoes – your choice as to the variety
Lots of butter – no substitutes here if you want maximum flavour; but if you want it strictly vegan, you can use grape seed oil, which is best for frying, or another oil if that is not possible or on hand, if needs be. What is a generous amount? Again, I never measure, so I can only guess, without looking in the pot. I’d estimate four tablespoons or more. No, this is not a low-calorie soup, but it is very hearty, very healthy and very delicious.
Butter has had a bad rap. According to Ayurveda, the ancient medical system of India, which is rivaled in millennia of empirical field testing and meticulous observation only by Traditional Chinese Medicine, butter, especially purified butter, or ghee, is one of the most healing foods we can possibly eat.
Essential oils are just that – essential. Along with flax and olive oil, I would say that real butter is a definite healthy choice. (Most margarine and most low-quality cooking oils are little better than toxic sludge, and in fact, they quite literally are that.)
If you cut out the fast foods, the baked goods and the junk foods, and cut your meat and dairy consumption way down, your fat consumption will plummet, and you won’t have to worry about using butter in cooking in any case. And if you cut out the sugar, and cut the starch, bread and grain way down and get moderate exercise, you also won’t have to worry about calories. But that is a personal choice.
I definitely prefer to cook with lots of butter and olive oil. Olive oil is possibly healthier, but butter adds tremendous flavour. Neither of them should be used with high heat, so keep the heat very low, and cook slowly. Only a few oils, including grape seed oil, won’t turn into extremely toxic trans-fats if used for frying or high heat. This is an important note.
Vegetable broth: 1-2 L, or 4-8 cups – or chicken broth if you prefer, which tends to give a richer flavour (use only organic and free-range whenever possible)
Salt and pepper to taste
Always use fresh-ground pepper. Not only is the taste far better, but black pepper goes rancid shortly after grinding, just as the oils in grains do; and black pepper that is not freshly ground can significantly contribute to the risk of prostate cancer as well. Freshly ground grains and pepper are important. Switching to fresh ground pepper at least, is easy.
Getting a grain grinder and grinding your own flour fresh right before baking is also extremely easy, especially with a bread-maker, but I must admit I haven’t gotten into that habit yet. The difference in taste as well as nutritional content is worlds apart, mind you, even when compared to freshly baked bread. The freshly ground grain makes a world of difference.
Note also that cancer rates in Europe were almost nil in the time of Galen and Hippocrates, and only began to skyrocket with the introduction of refined flour and sugar and the industrial revolution. My, but we are making such great progress, aren’t we? Time to simplify, I would say. Our overly complicated lives are killing us slowly. (Ok, there is your bit of philosophy for this post, for those who enjoy that sort of thing!)
Trim the ends then slice the leeks lengthwise, in half; then chop coarsly.
Rinse the leeks very well in a colander, basin, sink or bowl – whatever works! – pulling all the pieces apart as you wash to get all the sand out. Gritty leeks, like gritty spinach, are not very pleasant to eat, and they will be gritty if you don’t take your time in washing them well.
In a large pot, add a generous amount of butter or oil, chopped leeks and salt – several twists with a salt shaker should do. (I prefer to use Himalayan salt, since it is reported to have health benefits from the trace minerals in it, but sea salt is also good; table salt is a last resort, and not the best for flavour, having a sharp metallic taste that it imparts to the food.)
Bring the leeks and butter to a slow simmer over low heat. The leeks should sizzle, but they should cook slowly, if you want the best flavour. You can probably cook them in a few minutes over high heat, but the soup will be vastly better of you take your time, as well as being more nutritious. A slow saute over low heat for about an hour is ideal. Pour a glass of wine or a cup of tea, take your time, enjoy the process, and relax.
Everything is better when it isn’t rushed. If you eat in a rush, you never really taste your food. If you make love in a rush, you are not really there, and you miss the whole thing. And if you cook in a rush, you will likely make bland and unhealthy food, and miss all the joy of preparing it as well.
With all of the complications we have made in our lives, have we really improved the quality of our lives, or are we simply more stressed, more frantic and more busy? Are we really so clever, classless and free – to borrow a line from John Lennon – or are we simply manic serfs? What is all this insane rushing about? In our fast-paced and almost maniacally busy lives, we are in danger of forgetting how to truly live, or even who we are, as well as forgetting what is most important in life. Slow down. It cannot be said enough.
Which reminds me, last night the host and owner of a local restaurant rudely asked my belle and I if we would mind changing tables – to make space for a couple he said were his friends, who didn’t have a reservation either, by the way. Since my love and I would rather not make a fuss over minor issues, or at least, we certainly try not to, we said alright, and changed tables. The proprietor and host was fawningly chummy and patronizing, but it was a rude act regardless, made all the more rude by his clearly hollow pretense of being a close friend, when he was obviously acting out of callous self-interest.
We had been taking our time, and the restaurant was empty when we came in. We were enjoying tapas and drinks and hadn’t even had our main course yet when this rude message was delivered in the most plastic of fakery.We wanted to enjoy a leisurely meal, and to enjoy our time together, especially since we rarely go out; and not simply gulp down our food and run out the door. We were racking up a significant bill, and this was no fast-food restaurant, so we figured we could relax and take our time. Apparently not.
I won’t embarrass the staff or owner by mentioning the name of the restaurant, but I will say that before this incident, I would have given the restaurant five stars – even though, and especially because, it was unpretentious. Everything was perfect. After this rude behaviour by the owner/host, I couldn’t give it more than two, and we probably won’t be back for a long time. For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost, as the story goes.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. And for the loss of a battle, the kingdom was lost. Everything fell apart, due to the want of a nail. And for want of simple grace, many a business are lost as well.
If you can’t welcome and serve your guests like they are God, which in fact, they are, no matter who it is, then you really have no business running or staffing a restaurant, or having any guest at all, at home or anywhere, but should instead close your doors and hang your head in disgrace, until you can learn that “he who is worthy to drink from the ocean of life is worthy to fill his cup from your little stream.”
We had earlier told the host and owner that we really liked the place, as well as the food, but after such crude total lack of grace, brought about, frankly, by greed, callousness and a culture of cold and shallow rushing about, eager to get and to spend and to impress, the place has now left a bad taste in our mouths – even though the food was excellent. The rider was most definitely lost.
In any event, rushing destroys the joy of life, endangers our health and well-being and that of our loved ones, destroys our peace, and can make our lives more impoverished – as well as making us more self-absorbed, callous, disrespectful and cold. Slow down, I say. Few things are more important.
Modern life is wildly out of balance. Maybe we should all watch Koyaaniskaatski, Baraka and Office Space, and read Thoreau’s great masterpiece, Walden. We could do far worse with our limited time in this life than to ponder these great works – that is certain.
But to return to cooking… Slow foods and slow cooking are definitely the best. Simply make time. If you don’t have time for slow, home-cooked foods, then your priorities are probably messed up, and you need to slow down and simplify your life. And yes, it generally is that simple. We make excuses, but we are lying to ourselves, more often than not, when we refuse to slow down and to simplify.
And now, back to the recipe after this brief philosophical interlude!
While the leeks are sauteing, peel and chop the potatoes to whatever size pieces you prefer. My belle, my gal, the love of my life, my better half, likes creamed soups, so I blend them with a hand blender when they’re done cooking; but to each his own: leave them in large or small chunks if you prefer. I do think the flavour is enhanced by blending; but as you like. Sometimes a chunky soup is just what you want. For leek and potato in particular, however, I do think blending is best.
When the leeks are soft and have cooked well, add the potatoes, then add enough broth to cover the vegetables. If you add just a bit extra broth, you shouldn’t have to add any water later to keep the veggies covered while cooking. (Keep the lid on to keep the moisture in and the heat and energy requirements for cooking down.)
When the potatoes are soft, the soup is done, and just needs to be blended and seasoned. Add salt, fresh ground pepper and butter to taste. If you used lots of butter during the sauteing, you shouldn’t have to add any more at the end – it will be very rich and very creamy.
The soup can be made fast, but again, if you take your time, the flavour will be far, far better – and you will probably enjoy the process more as well!
C’est tout! Bon appetit! And enjoy!
December 18, 2013