Potato Leek Soup (with Beans)
some traditions need to be broken
things you’ll need: creamy white beans (I used large white limas from Rancho Gordo cooked with carrots, onions, and garlic), all the bean broth (or other stock), butter (plant-based or good olive oil), leeks, potatoes (yukon gold or russet), bay leaf, thyme (or herbs de provence), salt, pepper, and chives. Optional add-ins for richness or tang: white wine vinegar, buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, heavy cream, or whatever.
As with all classics, there are many approaches and all of them can be right. I followed this advice from J. Kenji López-Alt about mashing (or ricing) the potatoes instead of blending (to avoid any hint of glueyness), used white wine vinegar (as suggested by this recipe) in place of the dairy tang, and added white beans (as suggested here) because I love beans and needed to make a dent in my hoard.
incidentally gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan (if you skip the butter).
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You love the way food teaches you important things about life. You love the way that life informs the way you approach food. You aren’t threatened by new information because you know that rigidity of thought only causes harm.
Although some foods feel sacred, there is no such thing. This is not to say that food traditions shouldn’t be respected and indigenous food traditions shouldn’t be preserved. It is to say that rigidity hinders progress, whether it’s abortion rights, gun control, or who decides what is and is not a casserole. At its worst, it robs us of compassion and empathy. At its least, it just makes you seem like a dick.
Potato Leek Soup is one of those classics that you know exists, even if you have never had it. It feels French, somehow, but what do you know? As with most of your assumptions, it’s important to challenge them. Only a few minutes of research proves that Leeks are indigenous to the Mediterranean and Middle East and, through the help of imperialism, agricultural colonization, and the proliferation of western culture, they became staples in western cuisine thanks to Roman cultivation.
You don’t know who first made soup from leeks and added potatoes. You don’t know what chef or monarch made it classic, though you are pretty sure it was a white dude. You aren’t even sure what it is supposed to taste like, which frees you up to draw your own conclusions and make the soup you want to eat.
Start with a pot of creamy white beans, like large white limas, butter beans, or whatever you have on hand. Cook them with plenty of carrots, onions, garlic, herbs, and whatever you want to flavor the broth that will become your soup base. Cover the beans with at least three inches of water, boil for 10 minutes, then simmer until done. Salt to taste and set them aside.
(Don’t want to make your own beans or stock? Open a few cans of cannellini beans and a few boxes of stock instead.)
Melt some butter (or plant-based fat of your choosing) and sweat A LOT of clean and chopped leeks with salt until tender (20-30 minutes). Keep the heat low to avoid browning your butter and overwhelming the subtle allium yum.
Add your strained bean broth (or stock) to the leeks along with your potatoes. If they are Yukon’s, clean them and leave them whole. If they are russets, feel free to peel and cut them into chunks. Add a few bay leaves and herbs (like thyme or herbs de Provence), and then simmer until the potatoes are soft.
Remove the potatoes and let them cool (for ease of peeling and/or mashing). Puree the rest of the soup with reserved beans until smooth and creamy.
Mash the potatoes. If you have a potato ricer, then press them through. Add the soup puree back to the pot along with the mashed potatoes. Simmer and stir until the potatoes have fallen apart (enough). Salt and pepper to taste.
You can finish the soup with buttermilk, heavy cream, sour cream, yogurt, or a few tablespoons of white wine vinegar. Serve with chopped chives or whatever herbs you have on hand. If it’s too hot for a warm bowl of soup, chill it and call it Vichyssoise.
After your first bowl, you understand how potatoes and leeks became a classic combination. You don’t know if Mr. Monarch would approve, but you know that no one in Vichy, France is being stripped of their identity because you put beans in your soup.
It’s important to let go of the way things are “supposed to be” when it leaves no room for any other “right” way. Like the 2nd and 14th amendments, there is always room for improvement.
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