Saturday, February 5, 2011

Potato Leek Soup

What do you do when you see yet another severe weather alert in the forecast? If you're anything like me, you stay home and make soup. Well, and maybe some cookies (why does falling snow always make me want to bake??), but that's another post.

This is one of my winter standards. It's warm and cozy and exactly what you need on a chilly night, like tonight. But it's also one of my year round favorites.  It's cozy, but not so heavy/hearty/stick-to-your-bones that you can't enjoy it in the spring or summer, too.

And the best part of all? It's so simple that I challenge you to tell me that it's too much work. No special equipment required and only four ingredients that you should be able to find in any grocery store, plus a bay leaf, salt and pepper. OK, and a tiny bit of flour to thicken it ever so slightly.

It doesn't get much easier than that, or healthier. According to my handy-dandy MasterCook software, each serving is only about 250 calories. Even if you add a full-fat homemade Caesar Salad and a small roll, that's a pretty darn healthy meal in my book! I'm not all about the calorie counts, but it's nice to know if we're on the right track. And if you're interested, I'll include the information that I have (with the caveat that I'm clearly not a dietitian or nutritionist).

One last tidbit before we get to the recipe. Have you ever seen the phrase 'sweat the vegetables' in the directions of a recipe and wondered what, exactly, that meant? It's a great technique, especially when you're trying to watch the fat in a dish, but in my experience, most recipe writers get it wrong. When you 'sweat' something, you use a small amount of fat (3 tablespoons butter in this case) combined with low heat. I like to start the heat on medium to give the vegetables a kick and then once they're tossed with the butter or oil, add a pinch of salt, lower the heat and place the lid on the pot.

The pinch of salt helps draw the moisture out of the vegetables and the lid keeps that moisture in the pot. And when you keep the heat on low, checking and stirring every now and then, the butter or oil doesn't burn and the veggies soften like they're supposed to, without browning. I, personally, don't mind if there is some browning, but if you see some brown spots and you start to get worried, add a splash of chicken broth, white wine or even some water to the pot. Just a small amount of liquid will keep whatever you're cooking from browning or even burning.

Chop the leeks.

A lot of leeks.

Toss them with melted butter and sweat them til they're softened.

Chop the potatoes, preferably small enough to fit on your spoon.

The end result.
Potato Leek Soup
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, January 2000

servings: 4-6, generously
yield: 5.5 cups

note: Those Cook's Illustrated people must be hearty eaters. The original recipe made 11 cups and served 8 people. I halved the recipe, but feel free to double it - and hey, freeze the extras!

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds leeks (my store sells leeks in bunches, as in 3 for $1.99 - I use one bunch)
1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth (it's true, homemade is best, but store-bought does the job, too. this is the brand I use)
1 bay leaf
1 pound red potatoes
salt and pepper (I like to use kosher salt because it's easier to grab with my fingers)
  1. Cut off the dark green part of the leeks, leaving only the white and light green parts. Trim the root end. Leeks are usually pretty dirty inside so slice them in half lengthwise and then rinse under cold water. Some recipes will tell you to soak them in a bowl of water, but I think that just makes more dishes to wash. Scrub out the dirt with your fingers and dry the cleaned leeks.
  2. Chop the leeks into small pieces, depending on your preference. The original recipe called for 1-inch pieces, but I like them smaller, as seen in the 2nd and 3rd pictures above.
  3. Heat butter in a Dutch oven (or any heavy, large saucepan) over medium heat til foaming. Add leeks and a pinch of salt, stir everything and cover with a lid. Turn the heat to low and cook (or sweat the vegetables) for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until leeks are tender and softened.
  4. Sprinkle flour over leeks and stir to coat, cooking until flour dissolves, about 1-2 minutes. The flour is added to help slightly thicken the soup, by combining with the butter in the pan and in step 5, the broth.
  5. Turn heat to high and slowly add broth, whisking constantly. 
  6. Chop the potatoes into bite-size pieces. Add bay leaf, potatoes and salt and pepper to taste to pot. The amount of salt you'll need will depend on how salty the broth is - definitely look for the low-sodium store bought stuff.
  7. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 5-7  minutes, until potatoes are almost tender. Lower heat, if necessary to keep pot at a simmer (not a boil).
  8. Remove pot from heat and keeping lid on, let sit for 10-15 minutes until potatoes are completely tender. Discard bay leaf, taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed and serve.


  1. Awesome new look Danielle! Love the new header. this soup looks good enough for me to open my heart to cooking again! Good job!

  2. Thank you so much for the support Joane! It's all very much a work in progress - I might have to end up going back to Scraft to learn some new tricks!

  3. It looks to me like you really know your way around the kitchen….