Saturday, November 12, 2016

Vichyssoise Reimagined (aka. Potato Leek Soup)

I was recently asked, "how do you reconcile your training as a French chef with your plant-based diet?" I responded that the skills learned in French cooking school translate to most other cuisines--you just need to learn to work with a few new ingredients when you no longer have butter and cream at your disposal.

This is easy to say, but here is a delicious example of how to reimagine a classic, French potato leek soup, called vichyssoise, using only non-dairy ingredients. I have to say that I was shocked by how good this turned out and am kicking myself for waiting 15 years to try making this without dairy. This recipe has earned its place in my winter recipe rotation. The added bonus of making it dairy-free is that this version is also cholesterol-free.

The inspiration for this came, as it often does, from my local farmer's market. I spotted some beautiful, baby leeks (for $1 per bunch) sitting next to an assortment of freshly dug potatoes. For leek novices, here is a picture of regular-sized leeks. You'll notice that unlike onions, the dark green leaves are flat, not hollow. Any type of leek works in this recipe. I used baby leeks, which look like scallions but with flat green leaves rather than hollow green leaves. 

Leeks--make sure to use only the white and light green part for cooking.
Save the dark green portion for stock.

Before using leeks in a recipe, cut them lengthwise down the center and run water between the layers or swish them vigorously under water to remove the sand that hides between the layers.

Vichyssoise / Potato Leek Soup (Dairy-free & Dairy versions)

¼ cup raw cashews (for cashew cream, can substitute heavy cream)
2 Tablespoons Earth Balance (or unsalted butter)
2 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, rinsed thoroughly and roughly chopped
1 cup unsweetened soy milk (non-dairy milk or buttermilk)
1 Tablespoon lemon juice (omit if using buttermilk)
1 quart homemade or store-bought low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
1 pound Russet potatoes (or use ½ Russet and ½ Yukon Gold), scrubbed and 
      cut into large pieces  (roughly 2”x2”)
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (or ¼ teaspoon store-bought pre-ground nutmeg)
Kosher salt, to taste
Sliced chives or finely chopped parsley, for serving
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving, optional

1.     In a measuring cup, combine cashews with boiling water, filling to 2/3 cup line. Let rest while preparing other ingredients.
2.     Melt Earth Balance in a saucepan (at least 3-quart size) over medium-low heat. Add leeks, stir and cover with a lid. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until leeks are very soft, stirring occasionally. Take care not to brown the leeks as this will give soup a bitter taste.
3.     Meanwhile combine lemon juice and soy milk and set aside.
4.     Once leeks are soft, add stock, potatoes, bay leaf and a few twists of freshly ground black pepper to the pot and bring to boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce to medium-low and cover with a lid; soup should be just simmering. Cook for 15 minutes or until potatoes give little to no resistance when pierced with a fork.
5.     Meanwhile, dump cashew mixture into blender and blend until completely smooth; remove mixture from blender and set aside.
6.     Once potatoes are done, scoop most of them out of the pot with a fork, placing them in a bowl off to the side. Remove bay leaf and then add leek and stock mixture to the blender. Blend until completely smooth.
7.     Use a ricer or press potatoes through a strainer or chinois (fine mesh strainer) with the back of a spoon. Alternatively, you can blend the potatoes with the leek mixture, but the texture of the soup will be a bit “gluey” and not nearly as creamy. Another alternative is to use a potato masher and mash well, understanding that your soup will be a bit chunky if you do this. It will taste good regardless of which method you use.
8.     Whisk cashew cream, soymilk mixture, and nutmeg into potatoes until smooth. Then, slowly whisk in the leek mixture. Season to taste with pepper and salt.
9.     Serve right away to have slightly warm soup or chill and serve cold. Sprinkle with chives or parsley and drizzle with a bit of olive oil, if desired. Delicious served with crusty, artisan bread.

Makes 6 bowls

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