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Potato-Leek Hibernation Soup

November 9, 2010

Having spent my entire life in California, I am unaccustomed to seasons. Of course, we still had the symbols decorating our elementary school walls: red maple leaves for fall, snowflakes for winter, but it was all a bit arbitrary. You make a paper snowman in December because the teacher says so – never mind that it’s 72 degrees outside. Still, it made the seasons into an exotic adventure. I loved the annual trip to spend a day or a week in the snow, almost as much as I loved coming home to the sunshine. I’m quite happy that I’ve never had to shovel a walk or rake up leaves.

I did miss out, however, on the humbling experience of being at the mercy of the seasons. The inconveniences of the weather are just daily reminders of our own insignificance. Mother Nature can really make or break your day, and it makes no difference to her.

Here, the leaves are falling in great big piles on the sidewalks; they would be a dream for my little cousin back in Southern California – a novelty to crunch under her feet and throw into the air. I find them charming enough, but now in my second month here, the novelty is gone. I fall back on baser instincts and turn to my inner bear: it’s clearly time to hibernate.

And by hibernate, I mean load up on a bunch of starch and cheese and then refuse to leave the house: i.e. potato leek soup. With a short ingredient list and a minimum of active cooking time, you can even prep it and hide under the covers until it’s done.

Here are two medium-size leeks, deconstructed. The annoying thing about leeks is that they are a pain to clean. I usually just take them completely apart in an empty sink and make a big pile on the table. It’s a little ungainly, but it beats making dirt soup.

Leeks are sliced thinly and thrown in a pot with some melted butter. I use the whole leek for this – the tough green ends will have plenty of time to soften up in the soup, and it makes for a nice variety of texture.

Cook them on medium-low for about 10 minutes or until the leeks are tender.

Then, turn up the heat to medium-high and add some thinly sliced starchy potatoes. A mandolin slicer is great for this. (Just for god’s sake use the safety guard – I got cocky once and lost a bit of my thumb.) My mandolin is stored away in California, where it can’t hurt me anymore, so I just used a knife, carefully.

Stir the potatoes over high heat for 5 minutes to get a little brown on them. Add 1 cup milk and 3 cups chicken or veggie broth, and a 1/2 tsp of Paprika.

Let the soup simmer on medium-low heat for about 30 minutes until the potatoes start to fall apart. Get in there with a spoon and mash a few of the potatoes up to thicken the soup. Then, turn off the heat and add 4 oz of cheese (or more, if you are planning an extra-long hibernation.) I used cheddar this time, but a mix of cheddar and parmesan is pretty tasty. Stir until melted and season to taste.

We ate these with some bacon on top and tomato basil scones. Comfort food ftw.

Potato-Leek Soup

Takes about 1 hour
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter

2 Tablespoons butter
2 medium leeks, thinly sliced
1.5 lb starchy potatoes, halved and thinly sliced
3 cups chicken or veggie broth
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp Paprika
4 oz cheddar or other cheese (such as a blend of parmesan and cheddar)

1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and cook for 10 minutes, stirring ocassionally, until the leeks are tender.
2. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the potato slices. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
3. Add broth, milk and paprika and bring the mixture to a simmer. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover, and let simmer for 30 minutes or until the potatoes begin to fall apart. Mash some of the potatoes in the pot to thicken the soup.
4. Remove from the heat and add cheese. Stir until cheese is melted.

Crawl back into your cave and hide.

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