Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Ingredient 1 - Leeks

My sister Megan suggested leeks for my first featured ingredient.  She noted that they have been on sale recently at Whole Foods.  When I heard leeks, my mind went straight to leek and potato soup.  My mother made leek and potato soup, both the hot and chilled versions, intermittently throughout my childhood and I always loved it.  The  D.C. metro was quite chilly and windy last week.  Hot sup sounded amazing, so I committed to making leek and potato soup last Sunday.

So what are leeks exactly?  Leeks, Allium ampeloprasum, belong to the same family as onions and garlic.  They look like giant green onions but have a milder flavor than onions.

When selecting leeks, you should look for smaller leeks with dark green leaves, roots light in color and blemish free.  Avoid looks with wilted leaves.  

Leek and Potato Soup - Recipe adapted from Alton Brown and Emeril Lagasse

1 lb leeks
1 tbs butter
1/4 lb thick cut bacon
1 quart vegetable broth
4 small to medium Yukon Gold Potatoes
2 cups whole milk
2 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 white pepper
4 or 5 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
15 to 20 whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons snipped chives

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I began by melting the butter (medium heat) in a 6 quart pot; I used my trusty Dutch oven.  While the butter was melting, I cut the bacon into quarter inch pieces and then added it to the pot.  I then prepared the leeks.  I rinsed them and removed the green leaves and the bottom of the root.  I quartered the leeks lengthwise and proceeded to chop the quarters.  I should have rinsed the quarters before chopping them.  Apparently, there may be bits of sand inside the leeks.  I really need to read directions thoroughly before charging into the kitchen.     

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Next, I added the leeks and salt to the pot, stirring them every few minutes.  I peeled and chopped the garlic while my husband Dave peeled and chopped the potatoes.  Once the leeks had been cooking for about 5 minutes, I added the garlic and continued to sauté and stir the mix for and additional 2 to 3 minutes.  The potatoes and vegetable broth were added next and brought to a strong simmer.

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While the pot was coming to a simmer, I made a spice pack for the soup by placing the peppercorns, thyme, bay leaves, and a washed and chopped leek leaf into cheese cloth tied firmly shut with kitchen twine. 

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I placed the spice pouch in the pot and covered the soup, letting it cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Note: The soup is ready for the next step when the potatoes are tender.

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After 20 minutes, I removed the spice packet, turned off the heat, and stirred in the white pepper into the soup.  I let the soup cool down for 3 or 4 minutes before blending it with an immersion blender.  If you do not have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender.  If using a regular blender, be sure to only fill the blender 1/3 full and remove the cap on the lid so the steam can escape.  If you don’t remove the cap, you will shower yourself with hot soup.  Trust me, I found that out the hard way a few years back.  I made a god-awful mess of myself and my kitchen.  It was a rocking good time!!

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After blending the soup, I stirred in the milk and garnished it with the diced chives.  

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Just in case you were curious, my soup did not have any faint hints of sand, phew!!!    

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