Leek and Potato Soup Recipe

Soupe Poireaux Pommes de Terre

[Leek and Potato Soup]

It has been far too long since last I wrote about soup. Have I stopped making soup? This is like asking if I’ve stopped breathing, and the answer — as I type this, at least — is no.

The reason for this soup drought is that I’ve mostly been making variations of soups already featured on this blog, or über-simple combinations of whatever vegetables cried for salvation in my refrigerator.

Today’s recipe is also very simple, I’ll grant you that, but it is a deceptive kind of simple. The leek and potato soup is among the greatest classics of French homemade soups — an inexpensive, filling, and becalming concoction that is particularly welcome on a Sunday night when you’ve been feeling under the otherwise balmy weather.

It is a soup I am very fond of, in fact it was the very first one I tackled as a budding soup maker in my Californian kitchen. It was a sobering failure — I muffled the leeks’ flavor by using too many potatoes, burned my hand with the spluttering soup, naively assumed my food processor to be watertight, and repainted my kitchen cabinets in pale green — that took years of therapy to get over, but just one recipe.

It comes from my friend Sophie‘s admirable book La Table végétale, in which she organizes her vegetable-centric recipes according to the life cycle of the plant — I can’t get over how clever, how poetic that is.

La Table végétaleShe writes her way onward and upward from what lies below the ground (potatoes, beets, garlic), to what hovers just above (mushrooms, asparagus, leeks), to leaves (nettles, lettuce, vine leaves), flowers (artichokes, zucchini blossoms, borage), fruits (hokkaido squash, cucumbers, peppers), and back to the seeds (pink beans, chestnuts, corn) that will ultimately return to the earth.

It is a brilliant book, wherein Sophie distills her encyclopedic knowledge of the cuisines and ingredients of this world, broadening the reader’s horizon, teaching and explaining without ever sounding superior or academic.

Among the well-traveled recipes that propose to elope with your tastebuds to Budapest, Athens, Singapore, Colombo, Lagos, Casablanca, Bogota, or Shanghai, this one propelled me to the stove: a leek and potato soup in its simplest embodiment.

Sophie explains it is an heirloom from her family in Haute-Normandie, and what makes it special is that the most tender of the leek greens get finely sliced and briefly poached in the hot soup for texture. (If you own a miniature deep-frier — and if Maxence gets his way, I may soon have one, too — I imagine you could fry the thin strips and crown the bowls with these delicate leek tempuras.)

Because the soup doesn’t call for any artifice — it is just leeks and potatoes cooked properly –, it is of course in your best interest to use the most lovingly grown vegetables you can find. I got excellent results with sharpie-thin leeks and Monalisa potatoes from the organic farmers’ market on boulevard des Batignolles.

Post-scriptum: I just found out that the UN have declared 2008 the International Year of the Potato, to promote this hidden treasure that feeds the hungry.

Soupe Poireaux Pommes de Terre

- 1 kg (2.2 pounds) leeks, preferably organic, the thinner the better
- 450 g (1 pound) potatoes (Monalisa, Bintje, Yukon gold), smooth and firm, about 4 medium
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- Crème fraîche, for serving (optional)

Serves 4.

Trim the leeks, keeping about 6 cm (2 1/2 inches) of the green part. If your leeks are on the thick side, remove and discard the often fibrous outer layer. Carve a deep slit all along the length of the leeks, driving your knife almost to the other side, but not quite, to expose all the layers. Run each leek in turn under a stream of cold water, green part down, to wash away the sand and grit. Squeeze off the excess water.

Separate the white from the green parts. Discard the toughest green leaves, and set aside the most tender. Slice the leek whites thinly. Peel and dice the potatoes. Put the sliced leeks and diced potatoes in a saucepan and add 1 liter (4 cups) cold water. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat.

Season with salt, lower the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Purée the soup using a blender, stick blender (my choice), or food mill. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and return over low heat.

Cut the reserved leek greens in superfine strips with a sharp chef’s knife. When the soup returns to a simmer, add the leek strips, stir, and remove from the heat. Cover and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve hot, with a spoonful of crème fraîche and a few resolute turns of the pepper mill.

Adapted from La Table végétale by Sophie Brissaud.

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  • http://www.coffeeandvanilla.com Coffee & Vanilla

    Very nice recipe Clotilde.
    I made potato & leek soup also once:
    http://www.coffeeandvanilla.com/?p=834

    Greetings, Margot

  • Griffin

    Mmm, leek and potato soup! This reminds me of my mother who also used to make huge batches of it. Some we got, the rest was bottled in jars and refrigerated for later.

    She used to take off the first leaf, trim the very ends and then wash as you/Sophie says (New game – Sophie Says!) the rest of the leek would be chopped fine and put in the soup with the diced potato. It would all be allowed to simmer with occasional doses of stock being added until the potatoes were mush (a technical term) and the leeks were soft. Then a little olive oil and a lot of either black pepper or finely chopped chilli was added to give ‘warmth’.

    A winter wonder for when you come in from the wet, windy streets having shopped.

  • http://www.theperfectpantry.com Lydia

    Leek and potato soup is one of the few I can think of that tastes equally good hot or cold. I no longer put cream in it, in either version, and I don’t miss it a bit.

  • Rachel

    This looks lovely! I already have a couple of leek and potato soup recipes, but have never tried them as they both call for off-puttingly large amounts of cream. This one, however, I’ll have to try. Thanks as well for alerting me to La Table vegetale – it’s going on my ever-expanding list of books to look for on my next trip to Paris…

  • helenlamla

    funny you post this today – I happen to be visiting my mum in Victoria, British Columbia for a couple days, and picked up some local, organic leeks & potatoes yesterday. I made soup from it, and it was a great disappointment (it’s usually fantastic, but I didn’t weigh the ingredients and ended using way too much potato).
    Jacques Pepin has a great recipe in his new book, but I don’t have it with me. He recommends using cold butter if you don’t have creme fraiche, which I think adds a lovely mouthfeel and complements the sweetness of the leeks.
    I may vindicate myself and try again with your recipe today – my mother was not impressed with my previous effort! It’s a terribly blustery day here – perfect for comforting soup (and crusty bread!)

    Happy cooking!

    Helen

    PS the aforementioned butter is of course unsalted. There’s a heathenous habit of using salted butter here in North America (and it’s not fleur de sel…I would love to get my hands on that butter!)

  • Kim

    Is there a difference between this soup and potage parmentier a la Julia Child?

  • http://dailyunadventures.blogspot.com Katerina

    I am also a huge fan of this soup and the last time I made it I sauteed the leeks in a bit of duck fat I had in the fridge and it get the soup a really lovely rich flavour. So good!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Kim – They are indeed cousins, but the difference is that Potage Parmentier recipes usually lean more heavily on the potato side (as the name implies — Antoine Parmentier played a big part in promoting the potato as a vegetable fit for human consumption in 18th-century France).

  • tinymich

    The soup sounds lovely, Clotilde, and I’m excited to try it! Could you tell us what Monalisa potatoes are like texture-wise? I’m curious as to whether I should look for a starchier (e.g. russet/Idaho) potato, a waxy (e.g. red/new) potato, or if I should just go with something like a Yukon Gold that makes a buttery mashed potato. I expect each type would produce a different-textured soup?

  • http://www.lydiascozycorner.com Lydia

    that soup looks delicious! i have been on such a soup kick lately too,… planning to make a broccoli rabe and crimini mushroom soup today! :)

  • Cat

    Delicious! My milk or cream based leek and potato soups always come out wrong, so it is a relief that this post coincided with there being very little around in my kitchen that seemed to easily assemble into a meal. I added some gammon that was left from New Year’s dinner and instead of creme fraiche, used some Wensleydale cheese.

  • http://cookingallday.wordpress.com Jesper

    Ahh, I love leek-potato soup. I usually make the one from Escoffier – that’s a classic. Next time I’ll give your’s a shot :)

  • http://schnuppensuppe.de/blog/ rosa

    When I use starchy potatoes for making mash or soups, I find that structure and taste are much better if I don’t blend but just mash them. That way it tastes much fluffier and less slimy, since apparently (at least that’s what I once read ;) ) the potato cells aren’t destroyed.

  • http://www.sugarlaws.com sugarlaws

    “naively assumed my food processor to be watertight”

    I had this same disaster! In fact, I was also making leek soup — carrot leek, though — and I poured the whole saucepan of soup into my food processor and shrieked when about half of it came spilling out onto my kitchen counter and down onto the floor! Good to know I’m not the only one who’s made that mistake. Now I strain the soup and puree only the solids — foolproof.

  • http://www.columbiafoodie.blogspot.com Sara/columbiafoodie

    I like that such simplicity can lead to such fabulously nourishing results. Great recipe!

  • Richard

    I make this all the time but you get a more creamy soup by removing a lot of the water and adding about 2 – 4 cups of heavy cream. If you want to try something amazing add a bottle of beer and 1 jar of cheez wiz. It comes out like a Canadian chesse soup! Don’t use canned beer as it sometime has a taste of metal.

  • http://80breakfasts.blogspot.com joey

    This is one of my favorite soups and your friend’s recipe sounds divine! Thank you for sharing it :) Unfortunately, we do not have a good variety of potatoes where I live so I will just have to do my best!

    Your friend’s book sounds lovely by the way…

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Tinymich – The Monalisa is a firm- and yellow-fleshed all-purpose potato that purées beautifully in soups and mashes without giving them a mealy or sticky consistency. I believe the Yukon gold would be a good US equivalent.

  • Jim

    I found the ps on the year of the potato interesting. European explorers brought the potato from South America 400 years ago specifically to feed the huddled masses. I guess its about time the UN recognized:)

  • yourpapounet

    The biography of Antoine-Augustin Parmentier is well worth reading. It is instructive on many counts. See Wikipedia (of course, how else…?).

  • kevin de bruxelles

    I just finished making this soup. The colour is a beautifully pale avocado green and the texture just the right viscosity. This recipe really does have a higher proportion of leaks to potatoes than say Elizabeth David”s Potage Bonne Femme.

    As I was chopping leeks I wondered whether it wouldn”t be better with chicken stock, not tomention butter or even cream. After tasting it I realized all those extras would have been too much and instead the flavour of the leeks stays in the forefront. The lack of stock reminds be of the carrot soup in the Chez Panisse Cooking which got me thinking that a ladle or two of this leek soup would make a great addition to a bowl of the carrot soup mentioned above. Or vice versa of course, I”m just not sure if the colours will work together.

  • http://www.realepicurean.com Scott at Realepicurean

    never write too much about soup! This is a classic, simple and unassuming. I love it.

  • http://www.paraphernalian.blogspot.com paraphernalian

    I just put this soup recipe to the ultimate test–a winter week-night dinner when I came home cold and famished. Delicious! Thanks for yet another fantastic recipe!

  • http://caseyellis.blogspot.com casey

    I’ve been making leek and potato soup ever since Julia I was published–It was much loved by my children who called it “Green Soup.”
    Last week I was in Savannah, Georgia and had a lovely variation made with green Vidalia onions.

  • http://www.pinkofperfection.com Sarah

    This is a classic I never tire of, plus it has particularly sweet associations for me since my sister served it at her wedding.

  • http://www.morningsglory.blogspot.com Morgan

    Soup is often the unsung hero of the dinner table. Comforting, soothing, wholesome, healty…it amazes me more people don’t live on soup and bread.

  • http://www.wearenotmartha.com We are not Martha

    This looks awesome! Definitely adding it to my “to-do list.”

    I’m attempting butternut squash soup tonight!

  • http://cook-chinese-food.blogspot.com Voidan

    Hi Clotilde!
    I tagged you for meme but there is no obligation to participate… if you are interested here is the link.

    Have a great day!

  • http://thelovelyemily.blogspot.com Emily S.

    This recipe looks delicious, but it also looks a little plain. If I was going to add one or two herbs to it, what might be good choices?

  • msue

    We made this soup for tonight’s dinner, and it lived up to the compliments already noted. I had some chicken stock crying out to be used, so a portion of the liquid was stock (less than half) and the rest water. I really liked that there was no cream in the soup other than the dollop of creme fraiche (which melted nicely into the soup, thank you). The slivers of green leek atop the soup added delicate crunch with a big wallop of flavor.

    Sometimes we need to be reminded of the classics, so thanks for that. Great recipe and perfect timing for such a nourishing and satisfying meal!

  • http://www.albioncooks.blogspot.com catherine ross

    that’s the best photo of leek and potato soup I’ve ever seen – beautiful! thank you and happy new year!

  • Wouter

    Tried it yesterday, great simple soup. I did however add some fond de volaille at the end to add a little bit of luxury. Skipped the cream just to make up for that :-)

    Isn’t this called a Vichysoise, by the way?

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Wouter – Vichyssoise is also a leek and potato soup (most often made with a higher proportion of potatoes than in this recipe) but it is a *chilled* soup. You could certainly chill this one and call it vichyssoise though!

  • http://mesvitrinesnyc.blogspot.com Anne

    My boyfriend is a specialist for this kind of soup, but I’m going to show him this recipe! It looks delicious!

  • http://www.bandick.com bandick

    I am so excited to see this recipe. My grandmother’s potato leek soup was always my favorite. I actually just started working with leeks a bit more (my first recipe was your salmon and leek quiche — which was delicious, although I used a pre-made whole wheat crust).

    Thank you so much for what you do. I’ve been reading your site for a couple of years but was always too nervous to try any of the recipes. I assumed they were going to be too difficult for such a novice, but I made your Muhammara last weekend and it was no trouble, and delicious.

    Keep ‘em coming! I’m ready, now…

  • Monica

    I made this soup last night and I am very pleased with the result. I used Canada Gold potatoes and the texture came out very velvety and smooth. I did not use the cream just a little bit of butter. My husband loved it. I pureed it in a blender in very small batches to avoid a volcanic eruption. Thanks Clotilde. I love your blog and your book and wish I could live in Paris and buy my food where you buy your food.

  • http://parisandpomegranates.blogspot.com/ Mona Lize

    Thanks so much for the French recipes. I currently live in Dubai and have been longing to travel to Paris, but luck is not on my side it seems. At least I can eat French at home, thanks to you!

  • http://fallenfarfromthetree.blogspot.com/ alison

    I’d been looking for a simple leek and potato soup that didn’t involve dairy. Your soup not only fit the bill, but it is absolutely DELIGHTFUL! I made it today with perhaps the last bunch of leeks I’ll be able to purchase from our farmers’ market this season, and some Red Norland potatoes, which had both, coincidentally, been waiting a couple days in my refrigerator for inspiration to hit. This recipe is definitely going to be added to my regular rotation.

    and yes, longtime reader, first poster.

  • Lara

    This looks wonderful, and Sophie’s book appears to be something worth learning French for!

  • http://lafourchette.blogspot.com la fourchette

    I recently made a potato-leek soup with the addition of watercress. Lovely on a winter night, non?
    (I think this is the first time I’ve left a comment for all of my lurking! Bonne année before we slip out of January!)

  • Derek

    I made this last night after work–a quick and delicious soup. It was my first potato leek soup, so I was a bit surprised by the ratio of leek to potatoes, but it was bang on. I was going to try a Julia Child recipe until I saw this one, and I’m glad I did. I’ll definitely make this again.

  • Heidi

    I was so, so tempted to add more potato. I am glad I didn’t. The texture is absolutely wonderful and I cannot believe this has no milk or cream in it. Thanks to this recipe, I also know how to clean leeks quickly and easily. :) The only thing I did differently was to sweat the leeks in some butter while I peeled and diced my potatoes. This is a great recipe and I will definitely be making this again. I just hope I can find good leeks again…yesterday was the last farmer’s market day in my city until next spring…

  • Natalia

    I am going through your recipe index and trying out one after another. This soup I made two weeks ago on a cold rainy day. I have to report back on it..

    The soup was warm and thick, steaming in my bowl, smelling real delicious. A very tasteful soup, thank you!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Derek, Heidi and Natalia – So glad you liked the recipe, thanks for reporting back!

  • Allegra

    I just finished making this. So good! I love that there are so much leeks. The texture was great, especially with the creme fraiche. I can’t find it in my little town, so I made my own. Thanks!

  • Caroline

    This is delicious. I don’t have access to a blender so just mashed the potatoes after cooking – still delicious. I live in Vietnam so all of the vegetables are super tasty, and the simplicity of the recipe really plays to that!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      It’s wonderful for me to imagine this soup being made in a kitchen in Vietnam. Thank you, Caroline!

  • sally

    I love leeks, but I hate cleaning them, so here’s what I do: I slice them first! That’s right – first cut off the tough upper greens and freeze them for stock. Then, take the usable white and (tender) green portion and slice thinly on a slant across the grain. Put all of your sliced leeks in a big pot of cold water and swish it around vigorously with your hands. Your leek slices will rise to the top, and the sand will magically sink to the bottom. Skim the leeks off the top into a collander to drain. You can then rinse them again in the collander if you think they need it. Easy-peasy.

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