It seems the whole world has gone corned beef crazy leading up to St. Patrick’s day. Not that I have anything against corned beef. Or cabbage. But what I do have something against is green beer. Or any food, really, that is dyed green despite the natural order of things.
When St. Paddy’s comes around this year, why not indulge in something that is just as authentic but much healthier than either corned beef or green beer: we’re talking leek and potato soup. The Stout Sprouts and I made a version recently with some kale that pureed down to a lovely spring green. And this is the perfect seasonal soup, making good use of the last of winter’s russet potatoes, cooked down with tender leeks, onions, and a handful of that antioxidant-packed kale. It is hearty yet delicate, warming your insides while crossing over the seasons with the promise of sunnier days.
A kissing cousin to Vichyssoise, this particular soup is served hot rather than cold and forgoes the cream base in favor of a lighter, more nuanced chicken stock (which, if you’re going vegetarian or vegan, can be substituted very easily with vegetable stock). If you wish, add a little crunch and texture by serving it with crumbled bacon or croutons.
Our Sprouts L-O-V-E-D this soup. The recipe below makes a nice big batch, and we found ourselves packing it for lunches AND serving leftovers for dinner over the course of several evenings. It is also an easy meal to make with the kids. Ours helped to peel the potatoes and were whizzes at working the blender. Giving them free reign to sprinkle some crumbled bacon on their portions also guaranteed clean bowls.
Now, there are many countries in Europe laying claim to leek and potato soup. The leek, after all, is a national symbol of Wales, and the French proudly point to the afore-mentioned Vichyssoise whenever anybody mentions leeks and potatoes in the same breath. But the way I see it, there were many industrious cooks out there who, during lean times, turned to the most-readily available vegetables growing in their fields. Both leeks and potatoes are abundant in Ireland (except, of course, during the Great Famine of the mid-1800s, when a potato blight wiped out this staple crop and radically changed the population of Ireland through starvation and subsequent migration). Leek and potato soups — both pureed, and those served as a chunky stew — have graced the Irish table for many, many generations. A warm bowl, served with some brown bread and butter, makes for a comforting seasonal meal whether St. Patrick’s Day is around the corner or not.
The addition of kale is kind-of sneaky, but serves to increase the veggie quotient and to give this particular soup its lovely verdant hue. I promise you that it is a very subtle addition: give it a try, even if you’re not a kale lover. This leafy green is low in calories but provides a great source of the antioxidant vitamins A, C and K, as well as calcium and the trace minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorus. Blended in with the potatoes, onions and leeks, it adds just the right amount of vegetal flavor without overpowering or becoming too “earthy.” In a way, it acts like its cruciferous cousin the cabbage in bringing a bit of historical relevance to this Irish dish.
And if you raise a pint this St. Patrick’s Day, promise me you’ll choose a proper Irish brew and say a quick “Sláinte” over this hearty meal from the Emerald Isle.
Leek and Potato Soup with Kale
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, well cleaned and sliced into semi-cirles (to clean, slice the leek in half lengthwise and rinse well between each layer with running water)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 pounds Russet potatoes*, peeled and cut into large (approx. 2 inch) cubes
1/2 bunch curly or Lacinato kale (5 – 6 full leaves), inner ribs removed and discarded (or saved for stock), outer leaves cut into thick ribbons
8 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade (or vegetable stock for a vegetarian/vegan soup)
2 bay leaves
1 large sprig fresh thyme
3 slices cooked bacon, crumbled (optional, for serving)
Croutons (optional, for serving)
Begin by heating the olive oil in a dutch oven or large stock pot over medium heat. When shimmering, add the onion, leeks and salt and sauté until softened — between 5 and 10 minutes. Add the cubed Russet potatoes, kale, chicken stock, bay leaves and thyme and bring to a simmer.
Continue to cook until the potatoes are soft, approximately 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprig.
Carefully transfer the soup to a blender with a tight-fitting lid. Puree the soup in batches, being careful to only fill the blender 1/4 to 1/2 full each time (when blended, the heat of the soup will create pressure inside the blender, potentially forcing off the lid and making a HUGE mess…be careful!). Start the blender on the lowest setting, progressively working up to the highest setting but don’t over-process or the potatoes will become gummy. Transfer each batch of pureed soup to a clean dutch oven or stock pot, until all of the soup has been pureed.
Keep the soup warm over the lowest flame until ready to serve. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve topped with crumbled bacon and/or croutons, if desired.
Serves: 8 – 10
* The type of potato you use is important here: do not substitute any type of waxy potato (for instance, Yukon Gold or new potatoes) or your soup will become quite gummy and kind-of slimy. Russets, with their relatively high starch content, work best.
Kid rating: five stars. Yes, I said five stars for a dish that contains mostly vegetables…one of those veggies being kale. Our girls slurped up this soup, asking us to send it in a Thermos for lunch and requesting it several times over the course of the week for dinner. Daughter 1 says this is the “best soup ever.” Daughter 2 was initially skeptical, but her sister seems to have won her over (plus, serving this with bacon probably helped). If you allow your kids to sip this straight from the bowl or a demitasse cup they will end up with light green mustaches, as ours did. Just added to the fun factor.
Parent rating: four stars. This was super quick and easy. It definitely gets points for being prepped and on the table in under an hour. Both my husband and I thought the bacon or croutons were necessary for the crunch factor — without them, the soup doesn’t have much mouth-feel, which is necessary with a subtle, potato-based soup like this one. I really liked the addition of kale which brought a nice veggie note to the soup. It can be served hot, as we served it (and as I prefer it), or cold, like a Vichyssoise. Pair it with some crusty bread or a crisp salad for a full meal.