When I put leeks on the list, I genuinely had no idea what they were used for. I knew they’re a type of onion, but they seemed fancy and exotic because I couldn’t immediately think of any dish associated with them. (Remember, vegetables didn’t figure largely in my childhood, which is what led me to create The List in the first place!) When I looked up recipes online, the first one to pop up was Potato Leek Soup from The Kitchn. That makes sense. Potatoes and onions are a perfect pairing. I didn’t really expect to find dishes that were all leek. I suppose there are some people who eat onions like apples, but I really couldn’t picture someone gnawing on a leek like Bugs Bunny munching a carrot.
Potato soup is one of my favorites. Throughout this vegetable adventure, I’ve discovered I really like vegetable puree/cream soups like the Beet Soup from the original Soupalooza. I do like a chunky potato soup too, but leeks don’t really dice like a regular onion. Also, the greens are a lot hardier than the tiny delicate stalks of a green onion. They’re not quite as tough as an artichoke leaf, but I definitely recognized the wisdom in pulverizing it into mush before it went into my mouth. However, that same stiff structure makes them very easy to handle compared to the slipperiness of regular onions. You just slice, slice, slice up the stalk and get perfect little rings.
I’ve actually made this recipe several times now, and I’ve learned a few things:
The recipe calls for sauteeing the leeks in what seemed like too much butter (half a stick?!?). Don’t skimp on the butter! Once the leeks are cut, they have a LOT of surface area. Remember, you’ll be adding potatoes later, and potatoes loooooove butter.
As written, the recipe calls for Yukon Gold potatoes. They probably are more creamy, but I’m not a potato snob. I’ve substituted good ole’ Russets plenty of times because that’s what I usually buy. I bet any potato will do.
Thyme and bay are the main spices used, and I like the simplicity. I can taste the thyme, and the bay adds some depth. However, that is only if you’re using a mild chicken broth as the main liquid. I’ve also made this soup with a vegetable broth base (Better Than Bouillon), and it adds a lot of kick. The soup ends up almost over-seasoned if you dilute the broth paste per the directions and add the other spices as well. My advice would be to add the bouillon paste last. Since you’re blending the soup anyway, the paste will get thoroughly distributed, and you’ll be able to control the punch better.
I also recommend shearing the bay leaf and removing as much of the stem as you can. It just doesn’t blend well, and you’ll end up with a shard of bay leaf piercing your palate (says the voice of experience). In fact, this is a great way to use all those broken pieces of bay leaf since you don’t have to worry about fishing it out at the end.
I thought the recipe turned out a little too runny for my taste the first time. Now, I fill a 4-cup liquid measuring cup with water (because I’m using broth base), and pour in just enough to cover the leeks and potatoes. I check to see how much water is left, subtract it from 4 cups, then add enough bouillon to make broth out of what is in the pot. It’s usually about 3-3.5 cups. I just like my soups thick, and the cream will also add more liquid at the end.
If I have cream on hand, then of course I will use it. I just don’t buy it that often. For one thing, it’s expensive. That also makes it stressful. As a household of only two (my son and me), it’s a race against the clock to finish a gallon of milk before it expires. Cream is worse–I feel an obligation to use it for dishes where only cream will do (e.g. alfredo sauce, whipping cream, etc.), but most of those only use a small amount. I end up planning my entire week’s menu based on what I can do with cream (which turns out to be a pretty great week usually).
Whilst pondering this problem, I wondered if there were any suitable substitutes. It turns out evaporated milk works just fine in soup. It adds enough creaminess to turn vegetable pulp into smooth soup, but it’s shelf stable and sold in cans that are about the right size for this recipe. (Remember, I’ve skimped on the broth, so I can make up for it with a little extra milk.)
The purpose of making this recipe was to eat leeks, and I did enjoy the dish made strictly according to the recipe. But again, I don’t usually have leeks on hand. They’re too much of a specialty vegetable to be fridge staples. However, I do have regular yellow and/or sweet onions available at all times. I’ve subbed out the leeks for 100% onion, and it tastes just fine to me.
As you can see, this is a pretty flexible and forgiving recipe. If you’ve been too intimidated to try cooking with leeks, this is a beginner-friendly one to try.