Sunday, December 2, 2012

Memories of Ireland, Potato and Leek Soup

When my husband and I were in Ireland in 2009 we ate a ton of Potato and Leek soup, we probably ate it once everyday, served with a few slices of thick dark bread. It was the main staple of our diet on that particular trip, and not because we were vegetarian - at the time neither of us were - but because it was cheap, abundant, delicious and filling. My husband and I have never been the kind of people that travel for the food. We don’t seek out exotic culinary delights, or spend copious amounts of money on fine dining. When we travel we spend our money on seeing and doing amazing things, because if you’re not going to get the most out of your trip then what’s the point in going right? Which explains the potato and leek soup. You see, it’s a pretty standard offering in most pubs and restaurants in Ireland, and when we were there you could get a nice hearty bowl of it with bread for between four to six euro, four to six pounds if we’re talking about Northern Ireland. That makes for a pretty cheap lunch or dinner for two people while traveling and because potatoes are so heavy one bowl really is sufficient. If you’re extra hungry you might want to throw a three euro side salad into the mix, but it still keeps the cost pretty low.

We traveled to fourteen different cities in Ireland, and we ate Potato and Leek soup all the way from Dublin to Belfast, to Derry, to Galway, to Killkenny, to Cork, to Waterford, back to Dublin. No matter where we went the soup was always phenomenal, and I just fell in love with it - as I did so many other things about Ireland. After we returned home, despite having eaten it every day for the duration of our trip I wanted more potato leek soup. So began my mission to make a potato leek soup from scratch that was just as good as those I’d sampled in Ireland. For the past 2 and a half years I’ve failed at every turn and I have tried so, so many recipes. Whether the recipes be vegetarian or vegan I was never able to find a good recipe, not online and not in any cook book. Every recipe I’ve tried the soup was too bland, too thick, too much potato, too much thyme. The consistency was never right, the flavor was never spot on, it was never quite rich enough or creamy enough, and for a while I thought all was lost.

Then Friday I woke up to cold weather as one so often does in Chicago at the end of November, and I found myself with a hankering for potato and leek soup! I looked through a handful of my cook books trying to find recipes for said soup that I hadn’t yet tried, but to no avail. Nothing was catching my eye. After some moments of impatient contemplation I realized I didn’t really need a recipe at all. All I needed was my own creativity and knowhow, and so I went to the kitchen and set myself to work, with nothing to guide my endeavor except countless memories of Irish pubs and magical landscapes.

After having tried so many recipes - some from very renown people in the culinary profession - I had no hope that my little effort would yield anything palatable, but I had to try, and in the end, when I tasted what I had created I knew I had come as close to the perfect Irish bowl of potato and leek soup that I ever would. This soup turned out so rich and creamy, and bursting with flavor. It is everything a good potato and leek soup should be, and it’s fairly quick and easy to prepare. If you’re a potato leek soup fan I urge you to try it, and serve it a long a nice thick slice of pumpernickel bread.

Memories of Ireland, Potato and Leek Soup

2 Tbsp Earth Balance or other Vegan non-dairy Butter
1 Very large leek, washed and sliced.
3 medium sized Yukon Gold Potatoes skin on chopped
2-3 Celery Ribs chopped
4 Garlic Cloves Minced
2 Bay Leaves
1 tsp Thyme
½ tsp Sage
½ tsp White Pepper
1/4 tsp Smoked Paprika
Sea salt and Black Pepper to taste
1 ½ C Vegetable Broth
1 ½ C Water + 1 Vegan ‘Chicken’ Bouillon Cube
1 Bunch Parsley Minced
2/3 C Cashews + additional 1/3 C Cashews as needed
1 C Water
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1 Tbsp White Miso

- Melt Earth Balance in a pot on the stove over medium heat. Add in the leek and celery. Saute for 4 minutes then add in the garlic, bay leaves, thyme and sage and saute another 4-5 minutes until leeks are tender and bright green.

- Add in the potatoes, the vegetable broth and the water with the bouillon cube. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a good simmer. Allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.  Around the last five minutes of simmering add in the white pepper, smoked paprika, black pepper and salt. Stir to combine.

- While the soup is simmering combine the cashews, the water, the lemon juice and the white miso in a high speed blender and process on high until completely smooth. About 1 minute. If the mixture looks a little to watery you can add in up to another 1/3 cup of cashews for a thicker cream.

- Remove the cashew cream to a measuring cup and set aside. It should have yielded roughly one and a half cups of cream.

- No need to clean the blender out, instead remove the bay leaves from the soup and discard then transfer the hot soup to the blender being careful not to spill any or burn yourself. Once all of the soup is in the blender blend on high until completely smooth and creamy. Return the soup to the pot.

- Stir in 1 cup of the cashew cream. Stir in minced parsley, and season with any additional salt and pepper.

- Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with an additional swirl of the cashew cream, and a few twists of a black pepper mill. Enjoy!

PS: You can make this soup oil-free by using water to saute instead of earth balance. You can make the soup soy-free by using a chickpea or barley based miso instead of a soy one, or just leave the miso out altogether.

PPS: If you’ve never been to Ireland you really must go. It is one of the most spectacular places I have ever been! 

1 comment:

  1. It was SO good! I couldn't scoop it up into my mouth fast enough. I wish I had more to eat right now. My stomach is grumbling just thinking about it! - M